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NIHR Global Health Policy and Systems Research Guidance


Published: 24 June 2019

Version: Version 1

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NIHR Global Health Policy and Systems Research (Global HPSR)

Programme remit and guidance

The closing date for electronic submission of applications to NIHR Global HPSR Development Awards is 1pm GMT on 31 July 2019


The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR supports applied health research for the direct and primary benefit of people in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) on the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) list, using UK aid from the UK government.

Significant gaps exist in health policy and systems research activity relevant to LMIC contexts, and the NIHR, through expertise in the UK (NHS) context, is well placed to meet these needs, building on existing national and global health research programmes including Global Health Research Units and Groups and the Research for Innovation and Global Health Transformation (RIGHT) calls.

In partnership with Health Systems Global and HSRUK, NIHR established a Global Health Policy and Systems (HPSR) Community of Practice, to help identify global HPSR priorities and needs, and to support networking and shared learning. Through a stakeholder engagement workshop and survey involving this national and global HPSR community, NIHR developed and refined a new programme of global health policy and systems research relevant to low and middle-income country settings; this will comprise three complementary NIHR calls for research proposals.

NIHR Global HPSR Programme aims and objectives

The NIHR Global HPSR programme aims to support health research that is directly and primarily of benefit to people in LMICs through equitable partnerships between LMIC and UK researchers; joint engagement of stakeholders to identify and address priorities for research; and development of plans for capacity strengthening and knowledge sharing.

The Global HPSR Programme aims to contribute to improving whole health systems and health services in the relevant LMICs through development of successful equitable partnerships; research capacity building within countries, regions and areas which are under-funded and under-researched; and positive engagement with key stakeholders in the countries and regions concerned to identify local priorities and to implement and use the research findings. Ultimately, research outcomes will be expected to underpin the WHO #HealthForAll campaign to promote universal health coverage (UHC) towards meeting SDG3, achieved through supporting high quality, appropriate and applicable NIHR-funded global health policy and systems research.

The programme will comprise three Funding Awards types; the timetable for the calls for proposals are set out below.

Development Awards

  • An open call, to open June 2019, with funding for up to 9 months and up to £100,000 per award

The aim of the NIHR Global HPSR Development Awards is to support underpinning workfor the development of high-quality applications able to compete for research funding in global health policy and systems research by providing funding to:

  1. support partnership development between two Joint Lead Applicants one in an ODA-eligible LMIC and one in an UK institution to expand partnerships and develop consortia (up to 3-5 institutions);
  2. review the local context, existing research literature and health systems;
  3. develop a needs analysis, to refine ODA-eligible research questions and priorities through engagement with policy makers, evidence users and local communities, as appropriate. This can include pilot data, feasibility studies and work-force planning;
  4. establish plans for developing institutional and individual capacity and capability (for example research career development programmes and training; exchanges with policy-making institutions/practice-based settings; and grant management, finance management and contracting
  5. develop a strategy for research uptake and dissemination;

Whilst the Global HPSR programme aims to support researchers to progress to larger awards through the Development Awards, there are no guarantees of funding through the Researcherled or subsequent calls. All applications to the aligned Researcher-led Award call will be assessed in an open competition

Commissioned Awards

  • A targeted Commissioned Award call with a theme informed by stakeholder engagement and the global HPSR community of interest, to open approximately Sept 2019, with funding for up to 4 years and up to £4M per award

The NIHR Global HPSR Commissioned call will invite applications that address identified priority themes in global HPSR from established researcher partnerships with an existing track record, which build on these partnerships to undertake high-quality, relevant global HPSR. Applicants will be required to demonstrate they can already respond to some of the  elements a) to e) above. Themes for this call will be announced over the summer of 2019 and will be aligned with the WHO #Healthforall campaign to promote universal health coverage towards meeting Sustainable Development Goals.

Researcher-led Awards

  • An open Researcher-Led Award call, to open approximately March 2021, with funding for up to 4 years and between £2M-4M per award

The NIHR Global HPSR Researcher-led Award will provide an open opportunity for applicants to apply for substantive Global HPSR funding to support new and extend existing equitable research partnerships and bring the appropriate communities, patients and policy makers into the heart of global HPSR research supported through NIHR. The call launch is aligned to provide opportunity for successful NIHR Global HPSR Development Awards holders to submit research applications for follow on funding, in open competition (not restricted to Development Award holders).


The scope of the NIHR Global HPSR Programme is broad, covering any area of applied health services and whole systems research which can ultimately strengthen and improve health systems for people in LMICs. It includes but is not limited to applied research on wider elements of health systems such as governance, financing, health workforce, information systems, quality, and service delivery. The programme particularly encourages involvement of a range of disciplines driven by the research questions and needs identified by LMICs and relevant to low resource settings.

Principles of the Global HPSR Programme include:

  • All applications will require two Joint Lead Applicants (LMIC and UK) with funding and contracting to be administered via the UK institution.
  • All applications will include plans for engagement with key stakeholders such as policy makers, communities, patients and researchers, to facilitate locally relevant research priority setting, needs assessment and a strategy for appropriate research uptake and dissemination.
  • Applications for the Commissioned Award and Researcher-led Awards will be expected to consist of three to five institutions, in a consortium able to support knowledge exchange, relevant capacity and capability development. These relationships can be established as part of the Development Awards.

NIHR Global HPSR Development Awards

Awards of up to £100,000 for a duration of up to 9 months are available for joint applications from institutions in LMICs (on the DAC list) and UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) or research institutions to develop equitable partnerships; identify and engage relevant stakeholders (policy makers and LMIC communities); undertake a needs assessment and identify local LMIC-led priorities for research. Development Award outcomes will support a high-quality application for further research funding; building an equitable partnership consortium to undertake whole systems research; increase research capacity in LMICs and knowledge sharing in an area of need related to global health policy and systems research.

Development Awards are expected to start by March 2020 so successful outputs from the Development Awards can align with the launch of an open Researcher-led NIHR Global HPSR Award call in September 2020.

NIHR Global HPSR Development Awards will support

Applications which:

  • Plan for developmental work to underpin the five pillars (a-e above).
  • Demonstrate joint leadership between the LMIC and UK research partners and plans to engage with other relevant partners including those in low resourced settings.
  • Plan for studies that demonstrate the potential to impact on wider elements of a low resourced health system, such as governance, financing, health workforce, information systems, quality, service delivery etc.
  • Utilise applied health services research or whole systems research of primary and direct benefit to people and patients in LMICs.
  • Contain a feasibility study, methods development or pilot data collection (including assessing data quality).
  • Include applied research teams and involvement of a range of disciplines to support a whole health systems approach (driven by the research questions identified by LMICs), with relevant expertise, and plans for development of appropriate partnerships in LMICs.

NIHR Global HPSR Development Awards will not support

  • Applications which do not include two Joint Lead Applicants; One Joint Lead applicant must be in an ODA-eligible LMIC country institution relevant to the proposal and the other in a UK eligible institution.
  • Plans that are not clearly relevant to global HPSR in an LMIC setting and context or are not ODA-eligible.
  • Applications consisting solely of evaluations of existing services, without plans for evidence-based development and improvement of these services.
  • Applications that focus solely on implementation science or dissemination.
  • Applications which primarily focus on establishing new patient cohorts, biobanks or bio-sample collections or data collection studies, (samples or data from existing cohorts may be used).
  • Applications that primarily focus on basic laboratory research or research involving animal models.

Selection Criteria

  • Proposed Development Award plans are ODA-eligible and will directly and primarily benefit populations in LMIC(s) countries on the OECD DAC list.
  • Relevance and quality of the proposed plan to the call remit and requirements (a – e above).
  • Two eligible Joint Lead Applicants (one LMIC and one UK) per application, with funding and contracting administered through a UK institution.
  • Equity and strength of partnership development between Joint Lead Applicants and their relevant expertise.
  • A justified budget and resourcing that represents good value for money.
  • The pathway from the Development Award toward future follow-on research funding.


ODA compliance

  • In order to be eligible to receive ODA funding, applications must demonstrate how they meet ODA compliance criteria and outline: which LMIC(s) on the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) list of ODA-eligible countries 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.

Please note it is mandatory for applications to include two Joint Lead Applicants (one ODA-eligible LMIC and one UK institution)

Funding and contracting must take place via the UK administering institution (UK Joint Lead Applicant).

UK-based Joint Lead Applicants from HEIs and Research Institutes in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are eligible to apply. Joint Lead Applicants and partners from ODA-eligible LMICs are normally from a research institution, HEI or a not-for-profit organisation. If you are unsure of eligibility for a Joint Lead or Co-Applicant Research Institute/ not for profit organisation, please contact Partnerships which include other co-applicants will be considered where the partner’s role is well justified.

Where partner institutions are in middle-income countries on the DAC list, attention should be given to improving the health and welfare of the poorest and most vulnerable populations within these countries and how their findings could have wider applicability to other low income countries.

All parties listed on the application will be expected to have significant input to the Development Award management and form part of the leadership structure and governance. Management arrangements need to be fully described in the application. Applications must include signed letters of support from appropriate individuals, confirming support for the application and the agreement of the employing institution to undertake the research.

It is NIHRs advice to ensure draft collaboration agreements are developed with Joint Lead and Co-applicant partner institutions as part of the Development Awards to ensure the correct flow down of NIHR contractual terms to downstream partner(s) and to reduce potential for delays in transferring funds for future more substantial Global HPSR funding awards.

Prior to any transfer of money from the UK to the LMIC partner Institution(s) NIHR expect that proportionate due diligence assessments will be undertaken by the administering institution and for draft collaboration agreements to be developed between the UK and LMIC partners and submitted for review and approval by NIHR.

In the absence of an approved and signed collaboration agreements, the UK administering institution will be transferring funds to LMIC partners at their own risk or will need to make any relevant payments on behalf of LMIC partners until an NIHR approved collaboration agreement signed by the co-applicant partner(s) is in place.

An individual can be named on more than one application provided there is assurance their time can be released to support both applications should they be successful. One individual would not be expected to be a Joint Lead Applicant on more than one Development Award application.

If an institution is submitting more than one application, then NIHR expect each application to be distinct with minimal overlap. Please note that NIHR may limit the number of applications from individual institutions for the future Commissioned and Researcher-led Awards.

Budget and eligible costs

Awards of up to £100,000 over 9 months are available for ODA-eligible Global HPSR research plans, starting March 2020.

Eligible costs for NIHR Global HPSR Development Awards include but are not limited to:

  • Reasonable and proportionate staff costs
  • Travel and subsistence
  • Meetings and workshop costs
  • Development of memoranda of understanding and/or collaboration agreements
  • Community engagement and involvement
  • Items of consumables directly relevant to the project
  • Costs associated with publication, presentation and dissemination of findings
  • Website development

Please see finance guidance Annex for full details.

  • Costs for awards will be scrutinised as part of the assessment process and the Funding Committee reserve the right to award only part of the funds requested.
  • NIHR will challenge costs that it does not consider appropriate or does not consider providing value for money.
  • Development Award holders will be expected to provide quarterly finance reports of actual expenditure incurred, this will then be combined with light touch reporting against progress set out in the application with an expectation of proportionate due diligence.
  • Funds will be distributed to LMICs via the UK administrative institution. Payments will be made quarterly in arrears on the basis of expenditure reported through finance reports.

Selection process and timetable

Applications received in response to the Development Award call will undergo a structured selection process highlighted in the table below.

If high numbers of applications are received to the call, a triage process will be used; all applications will be scored against published selection criteria by members of the funding committee. Applications which score lowest and fall below the threshold will be rejected at this point. No feedback will be provided to applications rejected at the triage stage. Shortlisted applications will proceed to external expert peer review and consideration by the Funding Committee and will receive funding committee feedback.

NIHR Global Health Policy and Systems Research - Development Awards Indicative Timeline                            
Early trail of application questions and remit May 2019
Call opens for applications 5 June 2019
Deadline for remit enquiries* 24 July 2019
Application deadline 31 July 2019 – 1PM (GMT)
Triage (if required) August 2019
Peer review August - October 2019
Funding committee Mid-late November 2019
Applicants informed of outcomes 20 December 2019
Contract start date March 2020

Please note all dates are subject to change

*NIHR will not guarantee they will be able to answer queries about the remit or content of applications after 24 July. If you have other queries about MIS or the application process please feel free to contact us after this time. 

Completing your application

Please refer to Development Award Applicant Guidance.

Information briefing

An information briefing/webinar will be held in June/July 2019. Please register your interest by e-mailing