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Official Development Assistance Guidance for Applicants and Peer Reviewers


Published: 28 May 2020

Version: 1.1 - July 2022

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The NIHR Global Health Research programme is funded via the UK Government’s commitment to Official Development Assistance (ODA) and supports high-quality applied health research for the direct and primary benefit of people in low and middle-income countries (LMICs), as defined from time to time by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) and listed on the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) list. 

This guidance applies to all applications made to NIHR Global Health Research funding schemes, managed by the NIHR Coordinating Centres. It should be read alongside specific NIHR Global Health Research call guidance.

What is ODA and ODA-funded research?

Overall principles of ODA

Official Development Assistance flows are defined as those flows to countries and territories on the DAC List of ODA Recipients and to multilateral development institutions which are:

  • provided by official agencies, including state and local governments, or by their executive agencies; and
  • each transaction of which:
       a.  is administered with the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries as its main objective; and
       b.  is concessional in character

Steps in considering ODA eligibility for an NIHR funding application

  • ODA is a measure of government spending and is counted when cash leaves the official sector. The first step, ‘official flow’ has been defined prior to the funding call.

    Applicants must ensure the following three points are all fully addressed:

  • Is this activity's primary purpose the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries?
  • Is the benefitting country/countries on the DAC list of ODA eligible countries?
  • Does the project include activities in areas where there are specific ODA criteria? Are there elements which may have an impact on ODA eligibility e.g. work with the military, police or support to refugees in donor countries?

Primary purpose

ODA eligibility depends on the primary intent of the activity. Some expected benefit to developing countries is not sufficient; it must be the main objective of the activity for it to count as ODA.

  • the key question to ask is therefore “Is this activity’s main objective the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries?” - this is often referred to as the ‘primary purpose test’ and is the core criterion for any spend to be considered ODA
  • Secondary benefits to non-ODA eligible countries, including the UK, are acceptable as long as the primary purpose test above is met

Which countries are ODA eligible?

The OECD DAC List of ODA Recipients shows all countries and territories eligible to receive Official Development Assistance (ODA). These consist of all low- and middle-income countries based on gross national income (GNI) per capita as published by the World Bank. The DAC revises the list every three years.

Countries that have exceeded the high-income threshold for three consecutive years at the time of the review are removed and at that point will no longer be eligible for ODA. The next review of the DAC list will take place in 2023.

Note that the location of the activity does not determine whether an activity is ODA eligible, but the primary purpose and intended beneficiary of the activity. An activity may be carried out in a non-ODA eligible country if its main objective is the promotion of development and welfare of an ODA-eligible country. 

  • if working with upper-middle income countries, check the economic forecast through the OECD DAC list regularly to ensure they will remain eligible for the duration of the proposed ODA-eligible programme

Countries due to graduate from the DAC list

  • Bhutan will graduate on 13 December 2023
  • Sao Tome and Principe and the Solomon Islands will graduate on 13 December 2024.
  • Antigua and Barbuda, Palau and Panama graduated from the DAC list on 1 January 2022
  • Nauru exceeded the high-income threshold in 2019 and 2020. In accordance with the DAC rules for revision of this List, if it remains a high-income country until 2022, it will be proposed for graduation from the List in the 2023 review.

The graduation list is reviewed annually and this guidance refreshed accordingly with any changes.

ODA compliant research activities

The OECD Statistical Reporting Directives (Chapter II) Rules on eligibility, Section 7: Research defines ODA compliant research activities as follows:

“Research includes financing by the official sector, whether in the donor country or elsewhere, of research into the problems of developing countries. This may be either:

   (i) undertaken by an agency or institution whose main purpose is to promote the economic growth or welfare of developing countries, or
   (ii) commissioned or approved, and financed or part-financed, by an official body from a general purpose institution with the specific aim of promoting the economic growth or welfare of developing countries.


Allocation of ODA funding through NIHR Global Health Research

Key considerations when applying for NIHR Global Health Research funding

The NIHR Global Health Research Programme supports areas of applied health research and training that are under funded or where there is an unmet need.

The NIHR Global Health Research portfolio is underpinned by three principles which guide development and delivery. They are:

  • meet eligibility criteria as Official Development Assistance (ODA)
  • deliver high-quality applied health research, aligned with the Principles of the National Institute of Health and Care Research (NIHR): Impact, Excellence, Effectiveness, Inclusion and Collaboration
  • strengthen research capability and training through equitable partnerships

Capacity and capability strengthening may be understood as “the process by which individual, organisations and societies develop the ability (individually and collectively) to perform functions effectively, efficiently, and in a sustainable manner to define objectives and priorities, build sustainable institutions and bring solutions to key national problems.”1

Ultimately, capacity and capability strengthening should be aimed at improving the ability to undertake and disseminate research in order to promote the welfare and economic development of ODA-eligible countries.

Pathways to impact

To ensure research funding remains ODA compliant for the lifetime of the award, research plans and the theory of Change must clearly demonstrate pathways to improving health and wellbeing in ODA-eligible countries.

Please ensure NIHR guidance on Dissemination, Outputs and anticipated Impact and Intellectual Property are carefully followed.

Demonstrating ODA compliance within applications for funding

Applicants to NIHR Global Health Research funding will be asked to provide an ODA Compliance Statement.

The research must be for the direct and primary benefit of people in ODA-eligible countries. In order 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 a country or countries on the DAC list?

Where Middle Income Countries are included, the application must make a clear case for how the research will be of primary benefit to the development challenges of those countries, and how outcomes will promote health and welfare.

Where all or part of the research is 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 continued direct and primary benefit of the research to ODA-eligible countries.

Applications for research funding will be assessed by a competitive peer review process with ODA eligibility being a criterion for approval i.e. projects must be fully ODA compliant to be considered for funding. Initial ODA compliance checks will be carried out by the relevant NIHR Coordinating Centre; proposals that do not meet the eligibility as defined in this document may be rejected without reference to peer review. Peer reviewers will also be provided with this ODA guidance and asked to comment on ODA compliance and likelihood of significant impact. This will include checks for dual use of concern (DURC).


[1] United Nations Development Programme, Capacity Assessment and Development in a Systems and Strategic Management Context (1998)