The Global Challenges Research Fund
What is it?
The Global Research Fund

This is a relatively new opportunity for funding which, whilst administered by RCUK (and the national academies) is very different to conventional RCUK funding – a trap which many have already fallen into.

The Global Research Fund – What is it?
GCRF is a 1.5 billion fund to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries.
It’s designed to achieve this by:


a) challenge led disciplinary and interdisciplinary research (see figure below for challenge areas).


b) strengthening capacity for research and innovation in the UK and developing countries.


c) providing an agile response to emergencies where there is an urgent research need.
Equitable Access to Sustainable Development
  • Secure and resilient food systems supported by sustainable marine resources and agriculture
  • Sustainable health and well being
  • Inclusive and equitable quality education
  • Clean air, water, and sanitation
  • Affordable, reliable, sustainable energy
Sustainable Economies and Societies
  • Sustainable livelihoods supported by strong foundations for inclusive economic growth and innovation
  • Resilience and action on short-term environmental shocks and long-term environmental change
  • Sustainable cities and communities
  • Sustainable production and consumption of materials and other resources
Human Rights, Good Governance, and Social Justice
  • Understand and respond effectively to forced displacement and multiple refugee crises
  • Reduce conflict and promote peace, justice, and humanitarian action
  • Reduce poverty and inequality, including gender inequalities.
This fund forms part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment therefore only research that is directly and primarily relevant to the problems of developing countries is applicable. The fund will be administered by delivery partners including the four national academies and the UK research councils.

GCRF funding through RCUK– How does it differ from conventional RCUK type applications?

The key differences in GCRF research applications is that the emphasis must be on the impact that the research will generate in respect of the key areas. This means that the emphasis throughout the application must be on the problem that is being solved (as well as the knowledge gap associated with the problem). Try to use statistics wherever possible to reinforce the scale of the problem to the reviewer – but make sure there is evidence for your stats, no one likes spurious values!

Competitive applications will also make sure to identify the specific groups that will benefit within the target countries (which must come from the OECD Development Assistance Committees list of low and middle-income countries). It’s no good to develop a project which only targets a small minority of the population within the target country – unless you can show how the benefits can be scaled up across the wider population.


Finally, it is really important to work through co-creation where possible. Challenge driven research is typically best served by a “top down” approach to research design. The nature of the challenges means that those on the ground – living and working in the target countries – are more likely to understand the scope and the specific nature of the problems that are being faced, as well as the shape of the most feasible solutions. Therefore it is really important to bring these stakeholders into your consortium where possible.


Remember that it is still an RCUK application!

Despite this need for an emphasis on impact, it is still an RCUK application therefore the criteria for research excellence cannot be overlooked. It will still undergo expert peer review, and will still need to produce new knowledge and understandings. Simply taking an innovation from the UK and implementing it in a low or middle-income country will not be sufficient. Make sure to explain how your research is exciting, cutting -edge, novel and significant.

For further information about the Global Challenges Research Fund, or if you have an idea for a blog that you want us to cover please email us at

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