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Global Health Research - Call 1 Guidance Notes


14 June 2019


1.0 - June 2019


UK-wide call for NIHR Global Health Research Units

Remit and application guidance


In line with the UK aid strategy, HM Treasury has allocated Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding to the Department of Health to commission internationally outstanding applied global health research.

The purpose of this initiative is to support world-class global health research undertaken through new NIHR Global Health Research Units and Groups that will deliver measurable benefits to patients and the public in low and middle-income countries (LMICs).

UK universities and research institutes have a long tradition of outstanding research in and for developing countries, and major improvements in global health, especially of the poorest, have arisen from that work. Recognising the specific remit of the NIHR, this initiative aims to underpin UK universities and research institutes in their capacity to undertake this research, and to encourage UK universities and other research institutes not currently engaged in international development work to consider starting work in this area, especially in areas where there are global shortages of skills.  

The government has a wider strategy for improving health in LMICs. Those wishing to apply for this funding must ensure that it is directly and predominantly relevant to improving the health needs of those in developing countries. NIHR expects that most or all of the research that arises as a result of this funding is translational or applied and aims to benefit poorer people within ODA-definition developing countries. Engagement with developing countries is essential under this call.  

This call will complement UK-funded work already supported by the Department for International Development (DFID) in developing countries, by the Medical Research Council (MRC), and schemes the NIHR co-funds such as the Joint Global Health Trials Scheme. This call is also complementary to the current Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) RCUK call for strategic programmes to grow research capability to meet the challenges faced by developing countries. RCUK and NIHR will share information on health-related funding and will coordinate.

Universities are invited to submit applications to either expand or develop their ambitions to deliver world-class applied global health research.  Applications are invited for two schemes:

  1. NIHR Global Health Research Units: Universities and research institutes with an existing track-record of delivering internationally recognised research who wish to consolidate and expand this work, and
  2. NIHR Global Health Research Groups: Existing specialist academic groups who wish to expand into the field of global health, especially in shortage areas of research. 

For both schemes, research in any field of applied global health for the primary benefit of LMICs will be considered. We particularly encourage applications addressing under-funded or under-researched areas including, but not limited to, non-communicable diseases including mental health, surgery, tobacco control, and road safety, as well as health and applied social science and economic research, as part of a broader scheme of work or as standalone specialisms. 

NIHR Global Health Research Units: For universities and research institutes with an existing track-record in global health research, up to £7m funding will be awarded for a four-year period starting 1 April 2017. The type and level of funds requested will be dependent on the experience, track-record and ambition of the institution. Recognising the wide scope of health needs in developing countries, research in any area will be considered, especially if there is currently limited funding for the area. 

Funding will be awarded only to universities that can demonstrate the highest levels of academic excellence delivering research in their field, and a track-record of that research leading to improvements in health. Applications are especially welcome in partnership with institutions in LMICs

NIHR Global Health Research Groups: For specialist departments within universities and research institutes wishing to develop into the field of global health research, awards of up to £2m over three years are available. These funds will allow academic groups to develop links with LMIC partners and to put in place collaborations and/or partnerships, build capacity, and run pilot projects, with the aim of preparing them for delivery of world-class global health research in the future.  The aim of funding in this scheme is to allow universities and research institutes with strong specialist skills relevant to the needs of developing counties, but with less experience of working in global health to expand into the area. This is especially relevant where the UK currently has limited capacity in disciplines, subject areas or geographies relevant to global health.

The closing date for electronic submission of applications is

1pm, Thursday 26 January 2017. 


Aims of theNIHR Global Health Research Units and Group Funding

The schemes will provide ODA funding to establish either: 

  • NIHR Global Health Research Units (NIHR GHRUs): UK universities and research institutions that have a substantial portfolio of world-class applied global health research across either a range of clinical or research areas, or in a specific research area, who wish to expand this work. Institutions applying for this funding will contain substantial existing critical mass, a significant number of research leaders, and a wide range of underpinning facilities, or
  • NIHR Global Health Research Groups (NIHR GHRGs): Specialist departments within UK universities or research institutions not currently active in global health that want to use their existing skills to build capacity to extend into this field. 

The aims of the NIHR Global Health Research Units and Groups will be to:

  • deliver the UK’s ambition to be internationally outstanding in global health research, improving the lives of people in LMICs;
  • create an environment where world-class global health research, focused on the needs of LMICs, can thrive;
  • translate advances in applied global health research into benefits for patients and the public in LMICs;
  • focus on priority areas which will have the greatest health impact on health in LMICs, in the short, medium and long term;
  • provide high quality research evidence to inform decision-making by public health officials, practitioners and policy makers;
  • increase the volume and quality of multi-disciplinary global health research from the UK;
  • develop knowledge and capacity within existing UK institutions which can be translated into global health research practice;
  • retain a level of responsive research capacity to address emerging global health research requirements (Units only). 

Applications must demonstrate that they meet ODA compliance criteria and outline which country/countries on the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) list will directly benefit, how the application is directly and primarily relevant to the development challenges of those countries, and how the outcomes will promote the health and welfare of a country or countries on the DAC list, and in particular poorer people in those countries. 

Applicants will be expected to provide details of their pathways to impact. These should include plans for engaging relevant stakeholders to ensure beneficial research knowledge is translated into policy and practice. Monitoring and evaluation plans should be developed to determine the extent to how the activities proposed will deliver measurable benefits to patients and the public in LMICs. 

It will be important to communicate research findings directly to policy makers, practitioners and users, as well as through traditional publication routes. This requirement will need to be reflected in work programmes and dissemination plans. The NIHR expects that research data will be made available for analysis and re-use.

Applications may include a programme of research across a range of global health research areas, and successful applicants will be expected to have multi-disciplinary teams. It is anticipated that NIHR Global Health Research Groups will have a more focussed research theme including, but not limited to, non-communicable diseases including mental health, surgery, tobacco control, and road safety, as well as health and applied social science and economic research.  However, alternative approaches will be considered, provided they deliver global health research excellence as set out in the aims section above. 

NIHR Global Health Research Units will be required to retain a level of responsive research capacity to address emerging global health research requirements, to be agreed with DH/NIHR. The proportion of budget to be used for this type of work may vary across funded groups, and will be negotiated between the Unit Director and DH/NIHR in agreeing the overall work programme. Applicants are asked to work on the basis that NIHR/DH can call on the NIHR Global Health Research Unit to do additional responsive work up to a value of 15-20% of the contract. NIHR Global Health Research Units will also be required to provide an appropriate level of flexible staff capacity to deliver specific pieces of research in the event of a major global health incident.


Available funding 

  • NIHR Global Health Research Units: £7m per unit to be awarded for a four-year period starting 1 April 2017.
  • NIHR Global Health Research Groups: £2m per group to be awarded for a three-year period, starting 1 April 2017. Confirmation of full release of three year’s funding will be subject to a review after 6-months and an initial payment of £50,000. Funding is therefore likely to be weighted towards the later parts of the contract. Funded groups that are not deemed to have progressed sufficiently against their agreed plan after 6 months will have their funding terminated.  

The amount of funding allocated to each NIHR Global Health Research Unit or Group will be informed by the scale, nature and quality of research activity to be conducted. All costs must be fully justified and represent good value for money. This will be carefully reviewed by the Selection Panel.

Partnerships and Collaborations

It is essential that applicants engage with developing countries as part of this call to ensure research priorities are informed by local needs and formulated in consultation with developing country researchers, communities and policy makers. Partnerships with organisations based in countries on the DAC list are therefore strongly encouraged. Although any funds distributed overseas will be directed through the lead (UK) institution, the proportion of funds directed overseas is at the discretion of the applicants and should be based on the best balance to achieve the programme’s objectives. Details on how collaborations and partnerships with researchers and other partners (NGOs, Governments, businesses) in developing countries that will be sustained beyond the duration of this funding cycle should be provided.

Training and Capacity Building

The NIHR is committed to developing global health research capacity, and applicants may include a global health research training and capacity building component in their application either in the UK or in LMICs. Applications for Units can include PhD studentships provided these are contained and co-terminus with the award. These should only be requested if there is a clear need to advance the aims of the Unit and if they are part of a fully planned programme. Where PhD studentships are requested, applicants should clearly describe any unique features and added value, and how they relate to existing programmes or standalone studentships already held at the institution, provide details of the training programme, including proposed supervisors with appropriate expertise and experience, and ensure that there is adequate scientific oversight through functional review and advisory structures. Requests should not exceed five students per year.   

Commissioned research

Applications may include up to £200,000 to commission additional research outside of the Unit or Group not specified in the plan. Funds allocated through this route must conform to the requirements of ODA funding and must not exceed the overall funding cap for the call.


Applications are invited from  UK-based (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland) Higher Education Institutes and Research institutes.

Institutions will be eligible to lead a maximum of two Global Health Research Unit applications and two Global Health Research Group applications in total.

Partnership building and engagement between UK research organisations and researchers and other partners (NGOs, governments and business) in developing countries is essential through this call. 

Applications may be considered either from single UK institutions or from joint groupings including developing country institutions. In any joint application, funding will be released via a single contract to a named UK lead institution which shall also be the employer of the Director of the proposed Unit or Group. The proportion of funds directed overseas is at the discretion of the applicants. Any joint applicants will be expected to have significant input and form part of the leadership structure.  Any such joint management arrangements need to be fully described in the application.

A single Director will have a contractual relationship with the lead UK institution and have direct control of the funding. Applications will need to include a signed letter, by an appropriate individual from the university, confirming support for the application.

Eligible costs

Please see finance guidance Annex. 

Selection criteria

The selection criteria will be:

  • Vision: the strength of the vision, including how the proposed programme of work will fit with the global health agenda;
  • Strategy: the strength and feasibility of the strategic plan;
  • Leadership: the strength of the leadership and ability to implement robust internal programme management and governance;
  • Track-record: the strength and experience and track-record of the proposed research team;
  • Collaboration and partnership: the strength and maturity of existing partnerships with developing countries, and plans to build new partnership and/or link with existing collaborations and networks;
  • Capacity: the existing research capacity and plans for increasing capacity;
  • Impact: potential to have a meaningful impact and the strength of plans for involving users of the research and relevant stakeholders to facilitate translation of research evidence into policy and practice;
  • Institutional commitment: evidence of high-level commitment and contribution of the host university to the NIHR global health research programme;
  • Cost: value for money. 
For NIHR Global Health Research Units:

(institutions with a track-record in global health research)

  • the track-record of the university or institution in conducting world-class global health research and translating this research into benefits for the public in the relevant priority area;
  • the volume, breadth and quality of internationally-excellent global health research that will be delivered through this funding;
  • the strength of existing networks and relationships with LMICs. 
For NIHR Global Health Research Groups:

(institutions with a UK track-record but more limited global experience)

  • the track-record of the university or institution in delivering research with impact in the selected specialist field;
  • the strength of plans to develop global health networks and links;
  • demonstration that there is a global need to expand into the chosen area of work. This might either be a disciplinary need (e.g. anthropology) or a target need. 

The overarching principles for NIHR funding of transparency, competition and contestability will also be applied. 

Selection process and timetable

All NIHR global health applications will be considered by an independent Selection Panel, who will make recommendations to the Department of Health.

The timetable for the selection process will be:

  • 18 November 2016 – call opens
  • 8 December 2016– briefing event for interested applicants (see below)
  • 26 January 2017 – deadline for receipt of applications
  • 6/7 March 2017 – Selection Panel reviews application and provides recommendations to Department of Health
  • 9 March 2017 – Funding approval letters issued
  • 1 April 2017 – Start of funding
  • October 2017 – 6 month review for NIHR Global Health Research Groups 

There is a rapid contracting requirement for this call. Applicants should ensure relevant departments will be available to engage with the contracting process in March 2017.  To support this a draft contract will be made available through the call webpage.  

Information briefing

Interested applicants are invited to attend a briefing event at the offices of UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS) based at the Wellcome Trust in London from 2-5pm on Thursday 8th December.  Professor Chris Whitty, the Department of Health’s Chief Scientific Advisor, will discuss the aims of the call and there will be presentations from the DH Global Health Research Advisor and NETSCC programme staff on how to make an application.  Places at this event are limited. In the event of over-subscription numbers of attendees per institution may be limited. Register via the NETSCC website.

The event will also be live-streamed. To register for the live-stream webinar.

You can register questions for the speakers questions in advance through Twitter #NIHRghr 

Completing your application

You should complete an online application on the NETSCC website including the following information. A Word version of the form with character counts is available through the links section of the website.

  1. Details of university or institution proposing to host Global Health Research Unit or Group

    1. Contact details of Director
    2. Name/address of university
  2. Global health research ambitions

Provide a high summary level (three or four short statements) on the ambitions of your proposed Unit or Group and the level of funding being applied for, based on your existing experience and track-record in global health, or in a current UK-based specialist field/s.

  1. Summary of proposal in plain English

In plain English, describe the specific aims of the proposed NIHR Global Health Research Unit or Group. The abstract should explain to a lay reader the goals and objectives, and the ways in which this research will deliver measurable benefits to patients and the public in low and middle-income countries. 

  1. Strategic plan (2017-2021 for Units, 2017-2020 for Groups)

    1. Description of how this work will build on the strategic objectives of the host university and create an environment where world-class global health research, focused on the needs of LMICs, can thrive. Applications should outline how they link to existing institutional partnerships and strategies, how they will complement existing investments in the area, and how they will seek to ensure that capacity and capability is strengthened and sustained in the future.
    2. For Units:

Proposed programme of research, including

  • a scientific strategy for the Unit, providing a description of how the aims and objectives will be achieved;
  • description of planned research programme, including how this fits with the global health agenda;
  • short (1-2 years), medium (2-3 years) and long-term (3-4 years) aims and objectives and how these will be achieved;
  • a brief description of proposed projects that will be pursued within the first two years of the contract.

For Groups: 

Proposed programme of activities, including

  • Description of the proposed research programme, how it will fit with the global health agenda;
  • Description of how strong international collaborations and partnerships will be established and how capacity will be strengthened in LMICs and in the UK;
  • Plans for developing research skills within the Group and in LMICs;
  • Measurable 6-month delivery targets (to be used for agreeing to proceed with full funding);
  • Medium (1-2 years) and long-term (2-3 years) aims and objectives and how these will be achieved.

c. Plans for how the proposed collaborators and partners, particularly those from LMICs, will be involved in prioritising research topics and themes. Plans for involving the users of the research and other
    relevant stakeholders.

d. Plans for commissioning further research (optional) (max £200,000) - describe your high level plans for commissioning       of additional research, noting that all funding must be allocated according
    to ODA requirements and must not take the requested funds over the stated maximums (£7m for Units, £2m for Groups).

e. NIHR Global Health Research Unit applications only: Plans for retaining a responsive capacity to respond to emerging global health research requirements.

f. Sustainability plans beyond the duration of this award, including details on how collaborations and partnerships with researchers and other partners (NGOs, Governments, businesses) in developing
   countries that will be sustained beyond the duration of this funding.  

  1. Director’s track-record

    1. Overview – describe the volume, breadth and quality of internationally-excellent global health research (for applications for Units) or recognised achievements in their specialist research area (for Group applications), including relevant external sources of funding in the last 5 years;
    2. CV for the Director demonstrating that they are at the forefront of their fields and can lead a Unit or Group that will influence the practice of global health research (upload as attachment). Relevant publications should be listed in the CV upload and not in the application form.

  2. Team expertise, special interests and track-record

        Describe the track-record and expertise of each UK and LMIC member and the individual contributions they will make to delivering the strategy.
        Describe the maturity of existing relationships or plans to develop strong relations with partners in the future. 
  1. Collaborations and partnerships 

Describe any collaborations you have or plan to develop, which may include:

  • international partners
  • additional university partners
  • other public sector partners
  • other public funders of research
  • research charities

    8. Structure and governance

  1. Describe proposed governance and management arrangements. The Director will have responsibility for finance, and any external advisory groups or oversight groups that may be established.
  2. If a joint lead is being proposed, provide the rationale for this approach.
  3. An organogram of the proposed arrangement should be included (upload as an attachment).

     9. Research capacity

  1. Details of existing facilities, research posts and studentships relevant to this application;
  2. Details of plans for training and capacity building over the award period.

      10. Exploitation of Intellectual Property

Plans and strategy for identifying, managing and exploiting intellectual property. This should include those arising from all collaborations entered into using this funding, and including potential filing of patents, management of know-how and copyright, the establishment of spin-out companies and any income generated from commercialisation of intellectual assets.

      11. Justification of requested costs

  1. Provide a description of how requested costs will be deployed;
  2. Describe how the requested costs represent value for money;
  3. Detail the financial or other contribution from the lead university;
  4. Global Health Research Units only: Describe approach to costings relating to retaining a responsive capacity up to 15-20% of the value of the contract to respond to emerging global health issues.

     12. Pathways to impact

Describe the strategy for delivering impact from this funding to ensure the potential benefits of the research are realised. This should include monitoring and evaluation plan and plans for dissemination and data-sharing. 

      13. ODA compliance statement 

The ODA compliance statement should be a maximum of one side and explicitly demonstrate how the proposal meets key ODA requirements. It must answer the following three questions in order:

  1. Which country/countries on the DAC list will directly benefit from this proposal?
  2. How is your proposal directly and primarily relevant to the development challenges of these countries?
  3. How do you expect that the outcome of your proposed activities will promote the health needs of a country or countries on the DAC list? 

      14. Letters of endorsement from institution/s (attachment/s)

A declaration (template provided) signed by an authorised signatory for the Host Organisation is required confirming they fully endorse the application.

Additionally a letter of endorsement should be provided stating that appropriate support will be provided should the application for funding be successful. The letter should also set out any additional support the university will provide, i.e. in kind activities or financial contributions. Confirmation that this funding will fit with the university’s strategic priorities, as set out in the Strategic Plan section, is also required.

Summary of information to be submitted 

  1. Completed online application form.
  2. Curriculum Vitae for the proposed Director. (4 sides maximum).
  3. Curriculum Vitae for the proposed joint lead (if applicable). (4 sides max).
  4. A financial plan (Excel template provided).
  5. An organogram outlining the governance arrangements (upload as a PDF).
  6. Letter of endorsement from institution indicating support and involvement for the proposed NIHR Global Health Research Unit or Group.
  7. Declaration signed by the authorised signatory of the University or Higher Education Institute (template provided – this needs to be printed, signed, scanned and uploaded).
  8. If relevant, signed declaration from the authorised signatory for the host NHS Organisation, who can authorise the application on behalf of the host NHS Organisation. (template provided – this needs to be printed, signed, scanned and uploaded).
  9. Letters of support from collaborating institutions and partners.
  10. Optional– cover letter from the Director. 

Contact details

For enquiries about this call, please e-mail us at or call

023 8059 1859 

Postal address:

NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre

University of Southampton, Alpha House

Enterprise Road, Southampton

SO16 7NS