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Alliance universities, global challenges and the future of the GCRF

University Alliance today publishes a snapshot of the varied work of its member institutions with developing countries to tackle global challenges and inform policy and practice.

In the context of the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), announced as part of the government’s 2015 aid strategy, the publication UK research and innovation overseas: A snapshot of University Alliance activity in developing countries includes case studies from Alliance universities in each of the GCRF’s 11 challenge areas, covering issues from food security to viral threats in the developing world.

Given the central role of research and innovation in Britain’s humanitarian efforts overseas, the report emphasises the importance of getting the funding system right, supporting excellence wherever it is found, and the need for different sizes of grant for development projects.

With the consolidation of seven research councils into UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), there may be a temptation to move towards fewer, larger grants for established groups and institutions. To ensure innovation and dynamism, a supply of flexible funds should be set aside for smaller bids, the report says.

Alliance institutions currently work in 95 middle and low-income countries worldwide – almost two thirds of the total number eligible to receive Official Development Assistance (ODA). This makes Alliance universities well placed to fulfil the objectives of the GCRF as well as other funds aimed at reducing global poverty through the dissemination and transfer of excellent research and innovation.

The GCRF also presents an opportunity to grow the research capacity of both partner countries through research projects and UK PhD students and early career researchers who can later build on their international experience.

Examples of research activity in developing countries undertaken by Alliance universities include the University of Greenwich’s Natural Resources Institute, which works on global food security often in partnership with organisations in developing countries; the Open University’s Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa programme; and Sheffield Hallam University’s work in developing a mobile phone system to support farmers in India by providing on-the-spot advice to avoid critical threats to crops and livelihoods.

Commenting on the report, University Alliance Chief Executive Maddalaine Ansell said:

“Alliance universities’ research and innovation activity is transforming millions of lives: increasing global food security, investigating novel ways to provide safe water and improve air quality, and helping communities to rebuild following conflicts and environmental disasters. Addressing global challenges and humanitarian crises require multidisciplinary, innovative responses – our universities are well placed to translate research into real-world activity and deliver the GCRF’s ambitious goals.

“To achieve the maximum impact, the GCRF must be allocated through fair and open competition, and award a variety of sizes of grants to support excellence wherever it exists.”

Notes for editors

  1. The GCRF is part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment, which is monitored by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
  2. The full Spotlight Report, UK research and innovation overseas: A snapshot of University Alliance activity in developing countries, can be downloaded here.
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