The seven thematically focused UK Research Councils jointly invest around £3 billion per year in world leading research in all disciplines and sectors. The principle criterion for funding is ‘excellence with impact’. The Research Councils play a major role in contributing nationally and internationally to challenges such as tackling poverty, managing the environment responsibly, promoting social cohesion and improving wellbeing.
All of the Research Councils fund global development research, either through individual programmes, the Newton Fund, Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) or in partnership with other UK or international funding organisations such as DFID or the Wellcome Trust.
Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
AHRC focuses on research into human identity, behaviour and expression, and culture and heritage. As part of the Global Challenges Research Fund, AHRC has £33 million allocated between 2016-2021. Recent calls have included research networking grants and follow-on engagement grants on the role arts & humanities can play in international development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).
Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
As part of the Global Challenges Research Fund, BBSRC has £90 million allocated to research related to development between 2016-2021. The key strategic priorities for BBSRC are agriculture and food security, industrial biotechnology and bioenergy, and bioscience for health. In the past they have delivered a suite of calls on these topics, including on Sustainable Crop Production Research for International Development and the BBSRC-FAPESP (Brazil) joint call in advanced biofuels
Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC)
ESRC has long-standing experience with research for international development. Through a 10-year strategic partnership with DFID they have delivered a number of research programmes covering poverty alleviation, education systems and economic growth. ESRC also partners with other UK Research Councils, DFID and other funders to co-fund a number of initiatives including Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor (UPGro), Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) and the Health Systems Research Initiative. Other recent ESRC international development activity includes Newton Fund research and the Mediterranean Migration Research Programme. Between 2016 and 2021 ESRC has £45 million allocated to its Global Challenges Research Fund activity.
Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Examples of EPSRC's interests in relation to global development include off-grid and low carbon energy, digital and health technologies and resilient infrastructure perspective. Previous calls have included Understanding Sustainable Energy Solutions in Developing Countries (USES). Between 2016 and 2021 EPSRC has £70 million allocated to its Global Challenges Research Fund activity.
Medical Research Council (MRC)
MRC has a large portfolio of research relevant to international development, predominantly as part of their Global Health strand ranging from non-communicable diseases to neglected tropical diseases, and child and maternal health. MRC hosts research units in the Gambia and Uganda as well as being a member of the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trial Partnership. As part of the Global Challenges Research Fund, MRC has £150 million allocated to research related to development between 2016-2021.
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
NERC has a strong focus on global challenges, especially around the use of natural resources, resilience to environmental hazards and predicting, mitigating and adapting to man-made environmental and climate change. They have recently launched programmes on Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation and Increasing Resilience to Natural Hazards. Between 2016 and 2021 NERC has £45 million allocated to its Global Challenges Research Fund activity.
Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC)
STFC funds research in areas including particle physics and space science and provides access to large world-leading facilities for materials research, laser and space science and alternative energy exploration. STFC have recently started funding global development research, including using remote sensing and modelling for agricultural development. Between 2016 and 2021 STFC has £14 million allocated to its Global Challenges Research Fund activity.
Where it funds
The Research Councils fund research with a global impact. Where research funded by the Research Councils is part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) it must have the primary purpose of promoting the economic development and welfare of Low or Middle Income Countries (LMICs) on the DAC list of ODA recipients.
All UK Higher Education Institutions that receive grant funding from one of the UK Higher Education funding bodies (such as HEFCE) are eligible to receive funds from the Research councils for research, postgraduate training and associated activities. Other UK-based independent research organisations (IROs) may also be eligible if they possess an existing in-house capacity to carry out research that enhances the national research base.
ESRC, AHRC and MRC allow the inclusion of international co-investigators (CoI) on many of their funding schemes, following normal CoI requirements. This does not require a separate funding proposal or collaboration with an overseas research funding agency.
Calls funded in partnership with DFID normally enable researchers from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) to be principal or co-investigators on a proposal. Schemes funded via the Newton Fund require a partner country and UK based PI. Eligible costs for international PIs or CoIs depends on the scheme and funding agencies involved. The eligibility of a research organisation to receive funding will be confirmed by the individual Research Council before a grant is awarded using the process explained here.
How can I apply?
Any overseas research organisation or UK-based independent research organisations (IRO) wishing to be included on a proposal funded by a Research Council must be registered with Je-S (the Research Council’s joint electronic grant submission system). To register you should contact the Je-S helpdesk in the first instance: JeSHelprcuk [dot] ac [dot] uk
This is a non-exhaustive list of the ongoing programmes with regular calls under this fund. For current open calls visit our funding page or the funders' websites.
ESPA (Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation)
A global interdisciplinary research programme that aims to deliver high-quality, cutting-edge research to improve understanding of the way ecosystems function, the services they provide and their relationship with the political economy and sustainable growth.
Joint Global Health Trials
Funds late-stage trials of interventions that will help improve health in LMICs, by addressing the major causes of mortality and morbidity including behavioural interventions, disease management, drugs, vaccines, and hygiene and diagnostic strategies. The scheme is aimed at funding Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs), although other types of methodologies may be used to explore implementation and operational issues.
Joint Health Systems Research Initiative
The Health Systems Research scheme funds rigorous, high quality research that provides a step change in our understanding of the optimisation of health systems to deliver new or existing evidence-based interventions for the benefit of people in LMICs. Trials should be based in LMICs and academic groups based in the country of study or the UK are eligible to apply.
DFID-ESRC Growth Research Programme (DEGRP)
The DFID-ESRC Growth Research Programme (DEGRP) funds world class scientific research on issues relating to inclusive economic growth in Low Income Countries (LICs), with high potential for impact on policy and practice. The four core areas for research are Financial sector development and growth; Agriculture and growth; Raising productivity and innovation, and China's engagement in sub-Saharan Africa.
Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research
This programme funds world class social science research that addresses the goal of reducing poverty amongst the poorest countries and people globally by providing a robust conceptual and empirical basis for development with strong potential for impact on policy and practice for poverty reduction
African Research Leader scheme
The African Research Leader (ARL) scheme is a prestigious award which aims to strengthen research leadership across sub-Saharan Africa by attracting and retaining exceptionally talented individuals who will undertake high-quality programmes of research on key global health issues pertinent to the region.
European and Developing Country Clinical Trials Partnership
This European Community programme aims to accelerate the development of new or improved drugs, vaccines, microbicides and diagnostics against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria as well as other poverty-related and neglected infectious diseases in sub-Saharan Africa, with a focus on phase II and III clinical trials.
DFID-ESRC Raising Learning Outcomes
The Raising Learning Outcomes Research Programme funds social science research focused on how complex relationships between elements of the education system, the context in which they are embedded, and the system operating dynamics impact on efforts to raise learning outcomes for all. The programme focuses on critical areas including teacher effectiveness, accountability and financing.
Funding from the Department for International Development enables the Agri-Tech Catalyst to support the transfer of technology and new products to developing countries. The Agri-Tech Catalyst funds proposals relating to: primary crop and livestock production, including aquaculture; food security and nutrition challenges in international development, and challenges in downstream food processing.
Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises (R2HC)
The Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises (R2HC) programme aims to improve health outcomes by strengthening the evidence base for public health interventions in humanitarian crises and encourages world-class research through fostering collaboration between operational humanitarian agencies and research institutions.
SHEAR (Science in Humanitarian Emergencies and Resilience)
Science for Humanitarian Emergencies & Resilience (SHEAR) is an international research programme focused on four areas: disaster risk assessment, sub-seasonal to seasonal forecasting, disaster risk monitoring, and the integration of these into practical decision making. The programme targets LMICs across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, focusing on the co-production of knowledge using a multi-disciplinary and problem-centred approach.
Research Council-FAPESP Memorandum of Agreement
The Research Councils UK (RCUK) and FAPESP (Research Council for the State of São Paulo, Brazil) Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) supports proposals that cut across UK-Brazil national boundaries and involve international collaborative teams. Through the MoU, all Research Councils accept UK-Brazil research proposals through their responsive mode grants.