How to write a brilliant Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) strategy

How to write a brilliant Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) strategy

29 November 2018

At Research England, we have just come to the end of an exercise to assess, in some detail, Higher Education Institutions’ (HEIs) GCRF strategies.

The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a £1.5bn fund announced by the UK Government in late 2015 to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries. The fund is part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment. The Government has allocated £58m from this fund to Research England to distribute to English universities who receive Quality-related Research (QR) funding in the 2018-19 academic year.

To be able to access this £58m-fund, HEIs had to submit strategies to Research England by the end of March 2018. Strategies have to comply with strict ODA rules, and describe what institutions plan to do with GCRF funding over the course of three years. All 122 institutions who get QR funding from Research England are eligible for GCRF funding, but not all institutions submitted strategies, because their focus might not be on GCRF work.

A total of 107 institutions from across the country sent in strategies earlier this year. While all of the strategies are good and comply with ODA rules, ten institutions submitted what we consider to be exemplary strategies, which show that these institutions have engaged fully with the aims of GCRF funding, and have gone further than meeting the basic requirements.

So, we wanted to share why we thought the ten institutions’ strategies are so good, so other HEIs can emulate the best-performing institutions.

To recap, all universities’ GCRF strategies should:

  1. Comply with ODA rules – they embrace both the spirit and letter of ODA compliance
  2. Harness their institutions’ research strengths to pursue innovative research projects that directly address global challenges
  3. Embed development-related research into their wider institutional strategies
  4. Demonstrate clear pathways to impact in development countries

More specifically, this is what the ten individual institutions did very well:

Falmouth University’s strategy had a clear focus on one country, demonstrating how smaller allocations can be used effectively. GCRF activities are clearly mapped to specific Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and activities align with the university's current research connections in South Africa.

The Institute of Cancer Research targets specific collaborative projects that are directly relevant and compatible with the intentions and eligibility requirements of the GCRF.

King's College London’s strategy demonstrates how large allocations can be used strategically and effectively through meeting full economic costs as well as through capacity building activities.

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s strategy shows clear evidence of a desire to build and support capacity in local communities and institutions in developing countries, as well as a focus on relevant and timely engagement with current and critical development issues.

The Royal College of Music’s strategy demonstrates that small allocations can be used effectively and strategically by specialist institutions, and it focuses on co-development and the enhancement of existing collaborations with developing countries.

The strategy Royal Holloway, University of London submitted clearly identified how they will strengthen their own practices to deliver GCRF impact, integrating GCRF activity into their long-term research priorities. It also clearly placed developing countries as the prime beneficiaries of their activity.

The University of Bristol’s strategy develops clear criteria to ensure that each activity undertaken aligns with GCRF principles, has imaginative ways in which they will create long-term capacity and capability, and clearly demonstrates the benefits to developing countries.

The University of Exeter’s overall GCRF strategy was very clear, especially the detail they provided on illustrative research awards that will be eligible to receive GCRF to meet full economic costs, demonstrating that detail and specific information can be provided prospectively.

At the University of Leicester, they have clearly placed developing countries as the prime beneficiaries of their activities, have clear priorities in the case of funding increases or decreases, and have developed a theory of change to evaluate impact.

The University of Lincoln’s strategy has a clear link to their overall institutional strategy and is clear and concise in identifying specific activities that will be undertaken and the developing countries that they will benefit.

It’s clear that the different approaches the ten HEIs have taken show that there is not one failsafe way to do GCRF or ODA research correctly, but that institutions should play to their own strengths, at the same time as adopting some general principles of best practice.

We have published all 107 strategies on our website, highlighting the ten commended strategies so the HE sector can see in detail what an outstanding GCRF strategy looks like.

We are now busy allocating GCRF to all 107 HEIs that submitted strategies for academic year 2018-19.