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NIHR Global Health Policy and Systems Research (Global HPSR) Programme Researcher-led Awards - Remit and Guidance for the Researcher-led Awards Call


Published: 20 April 2021

Version: 2 - May 2021

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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 2015, the NIHR Global Health Research (GHR) portfolio was established to support 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 Official Development Assistance (ODA).

The Global Health Research portfolio is underpinned by three principles which guide development and delivery. These are:
  1. Meet eligibility criteria as Official Development Assistance (ODA), i.e. funded research directly and primarily benefits people in ODA-eligible countries on the OECD DAC-list
  2. Deliver high-quality applied health research, building on the Principles of the NIHR: Impact, Excellence, Effectiveness, Inclusion, Collaboration
  3. Strengthen research capability and training through equitable partnerships
The NIHR has established a substantial portfolio of applied global health research and training in areas that are underfunded or where there is an unmet need. The portfolio aims are delivered through a combination of researcher-led and commissioned calls, funding initiatives to develop and advance global health research career pathways both in LMICs and in the UK, and through partnerships with other major global health research funders. Together these have positioned the NIHR as a key player in supporting high-quality global health research.

Further information on the NIHR Global Health Research portfolio is available on the NIHR website.



The Global Health Policy and Systems Research (Global HPSR) programme funds high quality applied health research which aims to improve whole health systems and health services in ODA-eligible countries on the DAC list. This will be achieved through development of equitable partnerships between LMIC and UK research institutions, engagement of stakeholders to identify and address priorities for research in health policy and health systems, and by supporting capacity strengthening and knowledge sharing.

The Global HPSR programme comprises three types of awards: Development Awards i.e. research and partnership planning awards, Commissioned Awards designed to address pre-identified priority areas, and this new call for Researcher-led Awards in any area of applied health research relevant to the programme. The current portfolio comprises 17 Development Awards and five Commissioned Awards.  Find out more about the research funded by the Global HPSR programme and access our community of interest to network and share learning related to global health systems research.

The NIHR is pleased to launch the first Global HPSR Researcher-led call for applications which meet the aims and ambitions set out in the following call specification. This call is open to applications from LMIC leads as the contracting organisation to apply with a non-contracting LMIC or UK Joint Lead. Please see section 7 for further information on eligibility.



It is estimated that over 400 million people worldwide have no access to essential health services. The United Nations set a target for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 3.8) of attaining universal health coverage (UHC) by 2030, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality, and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all to ensure ‘no one is left behind’. The global COVID-19 pandemic has re-enforced the need for equitable, resilient health services and systems to protect health for all.

The Lancet Global Health Commission on high quality health systems in the SDG era, supports the need for a whole systems approach and high quality research required to help strengthen health systems and services and attain high quality care for all.

Strengthening whole health systems is complex and involves changes to several building blocks and performance drivers, for example: policies, organisational structures and relationships that support behaviour changes, and more effective and efficient use of resources to improve health services. Health systems are dynamic and subject to complex changes as a consequence of interventions applied within a given setting, as well as being influenced by wider determinants of health. A number of health systems frameworks exist, including the WHO six building blocks for a health system and the health systems cube. These aim to conceptualise the components and interactions within a complex health system that need to be considered when undertaking research to attain sustainable improvements in access, affordability, and quality of care services for improved health outcomes.

System-wide approaches require cross-sector engagement and involvement to sustain improvements to health service, quality, and health outcomes. For this to be achieved sustainably, national/regional (macro-level) changes are required, in addition to targeted organisation/service (meso-level) and patient/ practitioner (micro-level) approaches.

Providing services for acute and chronic conditions requires sustainable, integrated systems, including integration within and between community, primary, secondary and tertiary care, referral systems and effective data management systems. A motivated workforce with the appropriate skill mix, training, support, and organisation is vital to support effective health systems performance.

Aims of Global HPSR Researcher-led Awards


The aims of the awards are to support applied research to strengthen health policy, health services and systems and ultimately lead to improved access to high quality, appropriate and affordable health services, through:
  • production and dissemination of high quality, contextually relevant research on health policy, health services and whole health systems strengthening to inform policy and practice in LMICs.
  • supporting equitable partnerships and networks between LMICs and/or LMIC and UK researchers to generate new research knowledge and evidence.
  • stakeholder and community engagement and involvement throughout the research lifecycle to identify and address LMIC priorities for health systems strengthening.
  • supporting capacity strengthening activities and knowledge sharing to address needs and improve the health outcomes of people in LMICs.


Budget and length of funding


Through this call, awards up to £4 million maximum (typical range £1-4 million) for a period of up to 4 years are available for eligible research. Smaller awards within the range which are proportionate to the scale of research ambition are welcomed. The amount and duration of funding requested should be fully justified according to the nature of the proposed research. See the detailed Global HPSR Researcher-led - Finance Guidance for further information.



The Global HPSR Researcher-led Awards have a broad scope, covering any area of applied health policy and systems research, which can ultimately strengthen and improve health systems for people in ODA-eligible countries on the DAC list. 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, on health services and on the impacts of broader determinants of health. It can involve global health policy and systems research across the following domains:
  • patient and practitioners (micro-level)
  • organisation and delivery of health care (meso-level)
  • national/regional (macro-level)

Key criteria for funding

The following key criteria for this call encompass the overarching NIHR principles and contribute towards the aims for the GHR portfolio as a whole. The key criteria for funding are incorporated within the Funding Committee selection criteria (see section 8 below) which will be used to assess these single stage Global HPSR Researcher-led Award applications.

Applications submitted to this call will be required to demonstrate how they address the key criteria for funding:
  1. Relevance of the proposed research: The proposed research fulfils a significant gap, addresses unmet needs and priorities in ODA-eligible countries and aligns fully with the scope of this call. The proposed research plans should be based on a review of the local context/health system(s) and existing evidence.
  2. Research excellence: The planned research is of high quality, context-specific, needs-driven and will address a significant policy, health service or whole health system gap in applied global health research of primary and direct benefit to people in LMICs.
  3. Strength of the research team: The research team has a depth of relevant expertise and promotes interdisciplinary approaches to working by including expertise / activities associated with a broad range of disciplines such as researchers with health policy, health services, health systems, health economics, statistics and social sciences expertise.
  4. Equity of partnerships: Equity and collaboration should be demonstrated across all aspects of the research proposal, including: programme leadership, decision-making, capacity strengthening, governance, assurance, appropriate distribution of funds, ethics processes, data ownership, and dissemination of findings. Promotion of equality, diversity and inclusion are expected to be strongly reflected in all aspects of the planned research.
  5. Capacity Strengthening: There are clear plans for research and research management capacity and capability strengthening at individual and institutional level.
  6. Community Engagement and Involvement: Relevant and appropriate policy maker, stakeholder, and community engagement and involvement should be evident throughout all stages of the research, from research priority setting and design, to delivery, dissemination, and impact evaluation activities.
  7. Impact and Sustainability: There is a clear and implementable strategy for pathways to impact, including research uptake and dissemination, with the potential to improve practice, inform policy, and support implementation, scalability and sustainability.
  8. Value for money: Evidence of a clear, well-justified budget that represents good value for money is required. Planned expenditure should be proportionate and appropriate to the planned research activities and should consider Economy, Efficiency, Effectiveness and Equity (see the NIHR Global Health Research Programmes - Core Guidance for more information).

In Scope:

Global HPSR Researcher-led Awards will support applications which:
  • Demonstrate they address the remit, eligibility and key funding criteria (a-h above).
  • Propose applied health research programmes that primarily and directly address challenges faced by one or more LMIC(s) in provision of effective health services and systems, which may include, for example, research on long-term care.
  • Will clearly address one or more LMIC led research priority/ies.
  • Propose whole systems approaches to research based on findings from feasibility studies or existing pilot data collection (including assessing data quality), or previous research.
  • Propose applied health-related research to inform delivery of interventions that will lead from micro to macro-level improvements and will relate to and affect wider elements of a low resourced health system, such as governance, financing, health workforce, information systems, quality, service delivery etc.
  • Include interdisciplinary applied research teams to support a whole-system approach to tackle priorities identified by LMICs, with relevant expertise, and plans for development of appropriate partnerships in LMICs.
  • Seek to address issues of equity by incorporating research questions around gender, age, social barriers to health, and economic impact.
  • Consider the impact of COVID-19 within a wider systems approach, including its impact on services for other diseases and global health systems resilience.

Out of scope:

Global HPSR Researcher-led Awards will not support applications which:
  • Do not meet the published call remit, eligibility, and key funding criteria.
  • Limit their focus to only address the impact of a specific disease e.g. COVID-19 on health systems.
  • Only deliver local benefits, with no potential for scale-up to the whole health system level or for wider generalisability.
  • Request costs for delivery of health services and delivery of training for health care staff unless essential to the development and improvement of these services, as part of a research programme.
  • Plan to evaluate an existing service, or the roll out of new services in isolation, rather than as part of an integrated research programme, and which consist solely of one of the following:
    - randomised clinical trials (RCTs) of interventions,
    - epidemiological studies,
    - evidence synthesis,
    - evaluations of existing services, where the programme of work does not include evidence-based development and improvement of these services
    - replicating research already undertaken in High-Income Countries – research proposals should be clearly relevant to the ODA-eligible country/ies in which the research is being undertaken
    - implementation science
    - dissemination
  • 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). 



ODA eligibility

The NIHR Global Health Research programme supports high-quality applied health research for the direct and primary benefit of people in LMICs on the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) list, using ODA funding.

To be eligible to receive NIHR Global Health Research funding, applications must demonstrate how they meet ODA compliance criteria and outline:
  • Which country or countries on the OECD DAC list of ODA-eligible countries will directly benefit?
  • How the application is directly and primarily relevant to the development challenges of those countries?
  • How the outcomes will promote the health and welfare of people in a country or countries on the OECD DAC list?
Where some elements of the research are not undertaken in an ODA-eligible country during the course of the award (including where a country graduates from the DAC list during the lifetime of the award or there is a need for specialist expertise) the application must clearly state the reasons for this with due consideration to the benefit of the research to ODA-eligible countries.

Further information can be found at:

Who can apply?

All applications must have two Joint Lead Applicants. Joint Lead Applicants will normally be Principal Investigators employed by a Higher Education Institution (HEI) or Research Institute in either an LMIC (on the DAC list) or the UK.

A LMIC Joint Lead Applicant may propose joint leadership with another LMIC HEI or Research Institute or a UK HEI or Research Institute. If the contracting organisation proposed is a UK based, then it is mandatory for them to jointly lead with an LMIC institution.

Joint Lead Applicants must have sufficient standing within their organisations and have demonstrable ability to lead and manage a large-scale programme of global health policy and systems research. Arrangements for more junior researchers to act as joint lead may be considered with appropriate plans for mentoring and support in place.

For this call, the contracting institution must be an eligible HEI or Research Institute based in a LMIC or the UK (i.e. where the LMIC or UK Joint Lead Applicant is employed). Co-Applicant institutions may be based in an LMIC, or where justified in non-LMICs.

Under this call, there can be a maximum of five HEI or Research Institutes in a consortium, comprising two Joint Lead Applicants and a maximum of up to three additional Co-Applicants. There is no limit on the number of Collaborators, including service level providers necessary to effectively deliver the aims of the Global HPSR Researcher-led awards.

Please see the NIHR Global Health Research Programmes - Core Guidance section 2: ‘Research Expertise and Structure of Team’ for further information on eligibility of commercial, government agencies and non-research institutions.
Please note the following restrictions:

Under this call, an individual cannot be named as Joint Lead on more than one application.

There is a limit of two applications for any institution applying as a Joint Lead (applies to both LMIC and UK institutions). We encourage institutions to support high quality applications from current Global HPSR Development Award holders. 

Existing NIHR Global Health Research award holders are eligible to apply to this call provided there is assurance they have sufficient plans in terms of time and resources available to them to deliver concurrent awards successfully.

This is a competitive call for research funding applications; applicants who have existing NIHR Global Health Research awards will also be in open competition.

Please refer to the NIHR Global Health Research Programmes – Core Guidance for more information that may be useful to your application.

If you are unsure of eligibility, please contact

Selection criteria


Applications are in scope of the call if all eligibility criteria and key criteria for funding are met:
  1. Relevance
  2. Research excellence
  3. Strength of the research team
  4. Equity of partnerships
  5. Capacity strengthening
  6. Community Engagement and Involvement
  7. Impact and sustainability
  8. Value for money 
Please refer to section 6.1: ‘Key criteria for funding’ for details of what is expected to be demonstrated in the application for each of these criteria. This call is a one stage application process so all applicants must ensure all key criteria are met.

Selection process


Applications received in response to the Global HPSR Researcher-led call will undergo a structured selection process involving review by independent experts and an international Funding Committee. The Funding Committee will make recommendations to the Department of Health and Social Care on which applications should be supported. 

If high numbers of applications are received, the NIHR may adopt a triage process where members of the Funding Committee will review and score applications against published eligibility and selection criteria ahead of the Funding Committee meeting. Those proposals which score below the agreed threshold will be rejected at that point and will not receive feedback. High-scoring applications will proceed to external peer review and consideration by the Funding Committee.



It is mandatory for applicants to submit a short Intent to Submit form prior to the full application submission. The deadline for Intent to Submit submission is listed below. The information detailed in the Intent to Submit forms will be used to support NIHR planning in relation to the Funding Committee composition and peer review. It will not be used for decision-making.
NIHR Global Health Policy and Systems Research – Researcher-led AwardsIndicative Timeline (GMT+1)
Call opens for applications 12 May
Briefing webinar 08 June
Deadline for remit enquiries* 23 June
Deadline for mandatory Intent to Submit form 07 July – 1pm GMT+1
Application deadline (after mandatory Intent to Submit) 04 August – 1pm GMT+1
Remit checks & triage (if required) August
Peer review August-November
Funding Committee 01-03 December
Applicants informed of outcomes December
Contracts start 01 May
*NIHR will not guarantee they will be able to answer queries about the remit or content of applications after this date. If you have other queries about the NIHR IT system REsearch Awards Lifecycle Management System (REALMS) or the application process, please do feel free to contact us after this time.

Contracting Institutions should review the terms of the current DHSC ODA research contract and consider how these terms will be flowed to downstream research delivery partners.

The NIHR will request completion of Due Diligence assessments on the contracting institution and evidence of due diligence on downstream partners prior to contracting to inform proportionate, risk-based monitoring and assurance. Please note: LMIC or UK HEIs or Research Institutes not previously funded by the NIHR Global Health programme may be subject to additional due diligence checks beyond the standard assessments undertaken prior to contracting.

Submission of Risk Registers and a Theory of Change will be included as contracted milestone deliverables. For more information please refer to the Global HPSR Theory of Change.

Annual milestones and deliverables will be monitored, reviewed, and agreed annually with NIHR to ensure they remain aligned with original approved Global HPSR Researcher-led Award aims and deliverables. The NIHR will review the progress of funded awards after the first six months of their contracts to ensure the effective set up and delivery of initial milestones has been achieved. Contracts will continue to be actively monitored through quarterly finance / high level progress reporting and annual milestones monitored through annual progress reports.

Completing your online application

It is mandatory for applicants to submit a short Intent to Submit form prior to the single stage application submission. You must complete an online application via the REsearch Awards Lifecycle Management System (REALMS). The closing date for Intent to Submit applications is 07 July 2021 at 1pm GMT+1.
  • Applications will not be accepted if submitted after the closing date and time, the system will automatically prevent this from happening.
  • It is the applicants’ responsibility to allow sufficient time to submit an application.
  • Applicants must contact the NIHR Global Health team by emailing immediately if there is a system problem whilst attempting to continue with the submission.

Information briefing

An information briefing webinar will be held on 08 June 2021. Please register to attend by e-mailing