Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: African Research Leaders 2023

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Apply for funding to support excellent global health research and strengthen research leadership across sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

We aim to attract and retain exceptionally talented ‘rising star’ individuals who will lead high quality research on key global health issues pertinent to SSA.

Researchers should be supported by an enthusiastic local research environment and by a UK-based mentor as part of a partnership between the African and UK institutions.

Awards will provide support for up to five years and the requested amount should not exceed £750,000 in total.

Who can apply

Lack of grant funding and research infrastructure in many SSA countries can make it difficult to attract and retain talented African scientists. As a result, African nationals are currently under-represented as leaders in medical research in the region.

This scheme seeks to support talented early-to-mid career African researchers who are either already based in a SSA country, or currently working overseas who wish to return to a SSA country.

You can apply for this opportunity if you are a researcher based at an eligible African research institution with sufficient research capacity to manage and deliver research. This includes:

  • universities or higher education institutions based in SSA with degree-awarding powers recognised by the government in which the organisation is based. This includes the MRC units at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in Uganda and the Gambia
  • research focused institutes based in SSA either funded by the government of the country in which the organisation is based or by a not-for-profit organisation
  • research focused not-for-profit organisations based in SSA with dedicated research capacity.

If a candidate is returning to work in SSA, they are expected to make their own arrangements for relocating and obtaining a tenured academic position at an eligible African research institution if one is not already held (and should be in post by the start of any award).

The successful candidate would be expected to continue their appointment at the African research institution beyond the term of this award.

The African candidate will:

  • have completed a PhD
  • be well-qualified for academic research having spent at least the last three years in active research (post-PhD)
  • be building a track record of independence in their selected field and demonstrating promise as a future research leader.

Outstanding candidates who do not have a PhD but who are educated to master’s level and have substantial research experience, as evidenced by their publication record, may also be considered in exceptional circumstances.

Applications from women are encouraged. Candidates wishing to combine their research with domestic responsibilities may seek the award on a part-time basis. The terms and conditions of the award make allowances for maternity or paternity leave. Allowance will also be made to those researchers whose career has been affected, either by a late start or by interruption, for personal or family reasons.

For more details on institutional and individual eligibility, please see the MRC eligibility requirements.

The African research leadership proposal should be submitted in partnership with a UK co-investigator (mentor) offering relevant opportunities, such as:

  • senior or complementary scientific expertise
  • skill strengthening
  • discipline widening
  • technology sharing
  • mentoring.

The UK partner institution may be any eligible UK research institution, including MRC institutes and university units based in the UK.

Other named investigators are permitted where they bring expertise from another discipline required to fully address the health challenge identified.

Researchers not eligible

African researchers who already have a well-established record of securing significant international research grant funding or have reached a level of seniority (for example, professor or head of department) should not apply to this scheme.

These individuals may apply at any time as a co-investigator together with a UK-based principal investigator to any of our response mode funding schemes, and as principal investigator to the MRC Applied Global Health Research Board, depending on the focus of your research.

Limit on the number of proposals

You may only make one application to this scheme at any one time. There is no restriction on the number of applications submitted by each institution. However, MRC and FCDO aim to foster research leadership in a breadth of academic environments. It is therefore unlikely that several awards will be made to any one institution in a single opportunity.

What we're looking for

Your application will be required to meet the four key elements of the scheme, namely a:

  • talented ‘rising star’ African research leader candidate
  • high quality research programme proposal
  • research conducive academic African environment or institution
  • firm partnership with a UK partner institution.

Each should be described in the case for support that will be attached to the online application as indicated in the ‘how to apply’ section. Please refer to the detailed case for support guidance on how to structure this document. Further details on each of these elements are provided below. Please read each section carefully.

‘Rising star’ candidate

We’re looking for ‘rising star’ African research leaders. Candidates will be high-calibre, early-to-mid career researchers, who show a clear ability to cultivate a dynamic and innovative research group, likely to attract increasing international recognition and external funding by the end of the award.

The African candidate will hold (or make arrangements for obtaining) a tenured academic position at an eligible African research institution.

As a ‘rising star’, the African candidate will:

  • be developing a research team and undertaking original research
  • be building a track record of independence in their selected field and demonstrating promise as a future research leader
  • be well-qualified for academic research having spent at least the last three years in active research. This may be evidenced:
    • through a growing track record of staff and student supervision
    • through an expanding portfolio of lead author publications
    • by securing local or national funding
    • by attracting recognition through prizes and awards.

In addition to supporting scientific collaboration with the partner UK institution, the scheme offers the African research leader an opportunity to spend time (up to three months) for further career development activities, training or skills development in either country.

Examples include:

  • research management
  • mentoring
  • publication writing
  • industry internship.

Proposed research programme

We’re looking for talented and enthusiastic investigators working in all biomedical and health research areas. Priority will be given to applications that address key health problems relevant to national and regional health needs, hence best conducted in SSA countries.

We welcome high quality applications from investigators across a broad range of research activities within the MRC and FCDO’s global health remits. Please refer to MRC’s and FCDO’s strategic priority pages.

Activities can be focused on any major health priority in SSA, including:

  • research focused on the prevention and management of non-communicable diseases including cardiovascular disease, metabolic disease, cancer, respiratory disease and mental health
  • prevention and control of infectious diseases (major diseases such as malaria, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and tuberculosis), neglected tropical diseases (including snakebite), zoonotic and emerging diseases, co-infections and issues associated with emerging resistance to current drugs
  • multimorbidity (the co-existence of two or more chronic conditions, including long-term infectious and non-communicable diseases and mental health conditions)
  • basic, discovery health research approaches, experimental medicine providing mechanistic insight to human diseases, epidemiological (social, genetic and immunological) research, and prevention research
  • applied research approaches, including public health, health systems, health policy and implementation research
  • research targeting vulnerable or disadvantaged groups including refugees, people living in informal settlements, those living with disability, neonates, children, adolescents or the elderly.

This scheme will not support clinical or health related trials including ‘phase 1’ safety, proof of principle, efficacy or effectiveness trials of any new medicinal product, device, vaccine or other clinical intervention.

However, it will support observational programmes of epidemiological, laboratory, field and clinical research and early stage developmental or formative research that may be associated with or lead to future health intervention evaluation. If this is the case, the outcomes of the research and how these will be anticipated to inform future work should be made clear.

In recognition of the COVID-19 pandemic, proposals contributing to the understanding, prevention or management of the COVID-19 outbreak are welcomed. We do not expect to only receive proposals in COVID-19 related research, however we do require an honest assessment of how the pandemic might affect your research plans.

Please note, COVID-19 related proposals will be assessed according to the scheme specific assessment criteria in a competitive manner with wider non-COVID-19 research proposals.

The majority of the proposed research is expected to take place in the African environment. The African research leader should be supported by a robust research environment in their own local institution and by a strong linkage with a UK partner. The resources requested should be specific, justified and relevant to the research proposed.

This scheme is not primarily intended to support PhD students in obtaining their degree. PhD fees, allowances and stipends will not be supported. However, if the candidate does propose to involve PhD students to deliver elements of the work within their research programme, it will be necessary to explain how the supervision and input of those students will be managed to ensure their training is protected.

The African research institution

The scheme is offered to candidates employed by eligible institutions based in SSA countries with sufficient research capacity to manage and deliver research.

The host African institution must offer a clear research and career development environment with appropriate laboratory, field or clinical facilities to enable the research activities proposed as well as supportive administrative functions. The candidate should be able to draw on mentoring from senior individuals, and their career development should be nurtured. Where appropriate, fostering of scientific links across SSA institutions is encouraged.

The African institution will be expected to provide a strong commitment to the continuity of appointment of the researcher beyond the term of the award, such as a tenured position or equivalent. There is also an expectation that over time, the African institution would increase its level of financial support of the individual (if not 100% from the outset).

The African institution may build into the application a funding contribution for institutional development to support a set of institutional strategic objectives, the outputs of which should be verifiable and be able to be monitored. This could include capacity strengthening such as improved finance, data or research management, and professional training.

Tools and good practice documents on capacity strengthening in low and middle-income countries are available on the Tropical Diseases, Special Programme for Research and Training (ESSENCE) website.

Partnership between the African and UK institutions

This scheme aims to encourage a research supportive environment for the developing African research leader, both in the host African institution and importantly involving strong support from, and access to, expertise in UK academia.

The African research leadership proposal should, therefore, be submitted in partnership with a UK co-investigator (mentor) offering relevant opportunities, such as:

  • senior or complementary scientific expertise
  • skill strengthening
  • discipline widening
  • technology sharing
  • mentoring.

The individual scientific partnership between the candidate and the UK mentor must be underpinned either by an established track record of partnership at the institutional level or a clear plan for developing and sustaining long-term cross-institutional collaboration.

Previous partnering need not be in exactly the same area of research proposed in the application, however, the relevant strengths that each institution brings to the research proposed should be indicated.

Funding available

Awards will provide support for up to five years and the MRC contribution should not exceed £750,000 in total.

The majority of the funding will be for work taking place in the African research institution and so would be eligible for full economic costing (fEC) at 100% and must be entered as exceptions. Any costs specifically for the UK research institution will be provided on the basis of 80% fEC as usual. Please refer to the MRC guidance for applicants.

The total award package is anticipated to include the following elements:

  1. The African research leader (ARL), who is the principal investigator, will be expected to commit a significant proportion of their time (50 to 100%), over the entire duration of this award, to delivering the research programme. The African research institution will be the employer of the ARL. A contribution to the personal salary for the ARL may be requested. This may be up to 100% in the first years where a persuasive case is made. The expectation is that over time, the African research institution will demonstrate their commitment to the ARL by taking increasing responsibility for providing the salary. In the final year of award, this should be at least 50% of the personal salary.
  2. Resources to undertake the proposed research programme, which could include research support staff, research consumables and equipment, travel costs (between partner institutions), and other necessary costs. MRC will support indirect and estates costs for organisations based in low- and middle income countries (LMICs). Each LMIC research organisation can request indirect costs up to the value of 20% of their direct costs. Fees and stipends for PhD students contributing to the research will not be provided.
  3. The award has provision for a personal development element for the ARL candidate to support leadership development, strategic planning, research management and continuing professional development or other similar activities. As part of this, support may be requested for the opportunity to spend time (up to three months in total) in an organisation other than the host African research institution. This may be at the UK partner institution, or any other organisation including a biomedical or pharmaceutical company where skills and knowledge may be strengthened. This element is to provide a concentrated period of training or career development that cannot be achieved effectively within the African research institution. This would be in addition to collaborative scientific visits to the UK. Justification for the placement should be robust and details should be submitted on the placement template (DOC, 194KB). Candidates should be prepared at interview to discuss in detail any career development visit proposed.
  4. An institutional development element is available for the African research institution to support a set of institutional objectives, the outputs of which should be verifiable and be able to be monitored. Support can be requested for help to strengthen institutional capacity to host and sustain competitive research groups. This could include, for example, improved finance management, data or research management and other professional training. Tools and good practice documents on capacity strengthening in low- and middle-income countries are available on the ESSENCE website.
  5. A salary contribution for the UK mentor may be requested although we would expect this to be kept to a minimum. Other named SSA-based investigators are permitted on the application where they bring expertise from another discipline required to fully address the health challenge identified.

Tenure of award

This award is intended to provide long term support and will normally run for four to five  years with a maximum tenure of five years. Candidates wishing to combine their research with domestic responsibilities may seek the award on a part-time basis over a maximum of five years. The terms and conditions of award include provision for maternity or paternity leave.

How to apply

You must apply using the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system.

You can find advice on completing your application in the:

We recommend you start your application early.

Your host organisation will also be able to provide advice and guidance.

Creating your Je-S account

Before starting an application, you will need to log in or create an account in Je-S. This process is different depending on where your research organisation is based. UK co-investigators and applicants based at an African MRC unit should already be able to select their research organisation from the Je-S database.

All applicants will be based at, or moving to, an African research organisation and should firstly visit Je-S to download a list of Je-S registered organisations. You must also check if your research organisation has previously been awarded UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funding.

If a candidate is returning to work in SSA, they must apply via the African research organisation where they will be based and we expect them to have a contract with the organisation in place if awarded.

If you find your research organisation within the list of Je-S registered organisations, it is important to contact the submitter pool members of your organisation as soon as possible. This is to discuss arrangements to ensure the timely Je-S submission of your application.

Self registration process for overseas research organisations

If your African research organisation has not previously received UKRI funding, you are required to submit directly to MRC through Je-S.

You must navigate to the Je-S login page and select the option ‘self-registration for organisations’ to add your organisation to the Je-S database.

Je-S account process for overseas researchers

Following the completion of the self-registration process, any overseas researchers without Je-S accounts should follow the ‘create Je-S account application’ process as soon as possible. You should do this by navigating to the Je-S home page or by selecting ‘create an account’.

Each researcher should ensure they create the correct Je-S account type, by selecting the option (check box) adjacent to the description ‘an Applicant on a Standard or Outline Proposal (Principal/Co/Researcher Co–Investigator)’.

Once completed, create the Je-S application.

Creating your application on Je-S

When applying:

  1. Select ‘documents’, then ‘new document’.
  2. Select ‘call search’.
  3. To find the opportunity, search for: African Research Leaders 2023.

This will populate:

  • council: MRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: research grant
  • call/type/mode: African Research Leaders 2023.

Once you have completed your application, make sure you ‘submit document’.

You can save completed details in Je-S at any time and return to continue your application later.

Submitting your application on Je-S

The submission route for an application is not always clear to organisations who do not routinely use the Je-S system. Some organisations have set up a ‘Submitter Pool’ who will need to approve and submit the application before the deadline.

Once you have completed the ‘Project Details’ section of the Je-S form, you are able to find out the submission arrangements for your organisation. Select theDocument Actions’ button and then select ‘Show Submission Path’.

If the screen shows ‘With Owner’ and ‘With Council’, then the proposal will be submitted directly by you.

If the screen shows ‘With Owner’ and ‘Submitter Pool’ (there should be names listed against this section) and ‘With Council’, then the proposal must be approved and submitted by one of your research organisation’s named submitters. You should allow at least 48 hours for them to do this. Your research organisation may require longer, and we would strongly advise you to check this.

Please check that at least one of your organisation’s named submitters will be available on the day you plan to submit it. Please note that they will need to do this no later than the deadline date.

Deadline

MRC must receive your application by 1 December at 16:00 UK time.

You will not be able to apply after this time. Please leave enough time for your proposal to pass through your organisation’s Je-S submission route before this date.

You should ensure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place.

Attachments

In addition to the Je-S application, you will also need to include the following mandatory attachments.

You can find full details of what to include in mandatory and optional attachments in section 2.2 of the attachments guidance.

Covering letter (optional)

This must be a maximum of two sides of A4.

CVs for principal investigators, co-investigators and each named researcher

This must be a maximum of two sides of A4 per person.

Publications for principal investigators, co-investigators and each named researcher

This must be a maximum of one side of A4 per person.

Case for support

This must be a maximum of 19 sides of A4 including references, using size Arial 11 typeface with margins of 2cm on all sides.

The case for support should describe the four key elements:

  • the talented ‘rising star’ African research leader candidate (the principal investigator, one page)
  • the high-quality science programme proposal (10 pages including references)
  • the research-conducive academic African environment or institution (four pages)
  • a firm existing partnership with the UK partner institution (where the co-investigator is based, four pages).

You should use the following guidance to structure your case for support in these four areas.

The candidate for research leader (one page)

CV and publication details are input elsewhere in the electronic submission. Applicants should use this section to demonstrate that they are a talented ‘rising star’ candidate appropriately qualified to undertake the research proposed.

Candidates should describe their:

  • key research interests
  • career development to date
  • research experience and scientific independence
  • track record and productivity
  • ability to cultivate and lead a research team
  • medium and long-term career goals.
The candidate’s programme of research (10 pages, including references)

The scheme covers all biomedical and health research areas within the MRC or FCDO global health remit, for example:

  • infections research
  • nutrition research
  • maternal and reproductive health research
  • research on non-communicable diseases including metabolic, cardiovascular, cancer and mental health research
  • multimorbidity
  • epidemiological and social science approaches to health issues
  • public health research
  • health systems
  • implementation research.

Applications must address key health challenges relevant to national and regional health needs where the African research leader is based.

Candidates should focus on the key points as set out in the guidance below. These are based on the generic guidance on the content of the case for support for research grants, as detailed in the MRC guidance for applicants.

Title: maximum of 150 characters including spaces and punctuation.

Importance: explain the need for research in this area and the rationale for the particular lines of research planned:

  • justify the research either through it addressing a key national or regional health problem, its importance for human health, or its contribution to relevant areas of basic biomedical science
  • give sufficient details of other past and current research to show that the aims are scientifically justified, and to show that the work will add distinct value to what is already known, or in progress
  • where relevant, explain how the research will benefit the health systems within the country or countries of focus, or contribute to plans for future delivery
  • where the research plans involve creating resources (for example, a cohort) or facilities, or forming consortia, networks or centres of excellence, the case will need to address the potential added value, as well as issues of ownership, management, direction and sustainability.

Scientific potential, people and track record: there must be at least two named investigators, the African research leader (principal investigator) and the UK-based mentor (co-investigator), although other named investigators are permitted where they bring expertise from another discipline required to fully address the health challenge identified:

  • each of the investigator CVs will be uploaded separately as attachments in Je-S. If it is not obvious, the candidate may elaborate on why the group is well qualified to do this research in the case for support
  • explain how each of the investigators named in the proposal would work together and outline other major collaborations important for the research
  • acknowledge any previous or current MRC funding and describe progress to date on delivery of this research. If progress has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, please explain this. The quality and productivity of the recent work will be a factor in assessing the likely quality of future work
  • if the candidate has not been active in research recently, simply state this
  • describe any other factors that the candidate considers may promote delivery of the proposal
  • this scheme is not primarily intended to support PhD students in obtaining their degree. However, if the African research leader candidate wishes to involve PhD students in their research programme, they will need to demonstrate that the research and timeframe of the programme is appropriate and how the supervision of the student will be managed.

Scientific potential, research plans: this involves the following:

  • give details of the general experimental approaches, study designs, and techniques that will be used. The one-page annex reproducibility and statistical design should be used to supplement information in this section, where necessary and as appropriate. It is not necessary to describe each experiment, but enough detail must be given to show why the research is likely to be competitive in its field. For example:
    • highlight plans that are particularly original or unique
    • describe plans to reduce bias such as blinding or randomisation, or a justification of why such measures are not possible or appropriate. A justification of the proposed sample size must be given (where appropriate), along with details of the planned statistical analyses
    • describe all foreseeable human studies and animal experiments in as much detail as possible at this stage
    • explain in greater detail how new techniques, or particularly difficult or risky studies, will be tackled and alternative approaches should these fail
    • identify facilities or resources you will need access to
    • give sufficient detail to justify the resources requested
  • if this is pilot work or a proof of principle proposal, give a brief description of likely subsequent proposals if the work is successful
  • where appropriate, describe how local stakeholders (for example, policymakers, end-users and practitioners) will be engaged in the research from the outset in order to maximise potential impact and future scale-up
  • explain opportunities or plans for pursuing commercial exploitation.

If MRC requires additional information on any points that seem contentious or unclear, there is an opportunity to do this when responding to referees’ comments.

Scientific potential, ethics and research governance: this involves the following:

  • describe briefly the ethical issues arising from any involvement of people, human samples or personal data in the research proposal. Give details of how any specific risks to human participants will be controlled, and of any new animal research MRC would be supporting. Please refer to section five of the MRC guidance for applicants for further guidance
  • describe the ethical review and research governance arrangements that would apply to the work done.

Scientific potential, exploitation and dissemination: this involves the following:

  • is the proposed research likely to generate commercially exploitable results?
  • what arrangements and experience does the research group or the host research organisation have to take forward the commercial exploitation of research in this area?
  • other than publication in peer reviewed journals, indicate how any results arising from the research will be disseminated so as to promote or facilitate take up by users in the health services.

Please note that this scheme will not support clinical or health related trials including phase 1 safety, proof of principle, efficacy or effectiveness trials of any new medicinal product, device, vaccine or other interventions.

It will support observational programmes of epidemiological, laboratory, field and clinical research and early stage developmental or formative research that may be associated with or lead to future health intervention evaluation or clinical trials. If this is the case, the outcomes of the research and how these will be anticipated to inform future work should be made clear.

Scientific potential, gender equality: this involves the following:

We expect all applications to consider the impact of the proposed research on gender equality. Applicants should outline how they have taken meaningful yet proportionate consideration as to how the project will contribute to reducing gender inequalities. This can either be done in the headings outlined above or in a separate sub-heading.

Applicants should consider the following criteria:

  • have measures been put in place to ensure equal and meaningful opportunities for people of different genders to be involved throughout the project? This includes the development of the project, the participants of the research and innovation, and the beneficiaries of the research and innovation
  • the expected impact of the project (benefits and losses) on people of different genders, both throughout the project and beyond
  • the impact on the relations between people of different genders and people of the same gender. For example, changing roles and responsibilities in households, society, economy, politics and power
  • how will any risks and unintended negative consequences on gender equality be avoided or mitigated against, and monitored?
  • are there any relevant outcomes and outputs being measured, with data disaggregated by age and gender (where disclosed)?
The African environment or institution: demonstration of a research-conducive environment (four pages)

The scheme will accept applications from the following lead organisations. All organisations must have sufficient capacity to deliver research projects, including robust financial management processes:

  • universities or higher education institutions based in SSA countries with degree-awarding powers recognised by the government in which the organisation is based. This includes the MRC units at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in Uganda and the Gambia
  • research focused institutes based in SSA countries either funded by the government of the country in which the organisation is based or by a not-for-profit organisation
  • research focused not-for-profit organisations based in SSA countries with dedicated research capacity.

This section should be used to describe the proposed African institution’s research environment including:

  • the African institution’s mission, scientific objectives, strategy, management and governance policies
  • the level of the African institution’s commitment to the mid to long-term career of the proposed research leader. Describe how the institution intends to increase its level of financial support of the proposed research leader
  • the commitment of the African institution for supporting the proposed programme of research and career goals of the candidate
  • what relationships have been established with the research relevant health services and Ministry of Health?
  • what is the African institution’s commitment to developing systems for translating research outputs towards health policies, practices and products?
  • is the institution a valued partner in South-South or North-South links (or both), demonstrated through contribution to research networks, joint training and development of initiatives nationally and internationally?
  • how the proposed research leader’s activities will generate added value or synergies for the African institution
  • describe and make a persuasive case (appropriateness, quality, feasibility, value for money and likely benefit) for any request relating to the African institution’s institutional development needs relating to the proposed African research leader candidate.
The African-UK institutional partnership (four pages)

The individual scientific partnership between the African research leader candidate and the UK co-investigator must be underpinned either by an established track record of partnership at the institutional level or a clear plan for developing and sustaining long-term cross-institutional collaboration.

Any previous partnering need not be in exactly the same area of research proposed in the application, however the relevant strengths that each institution brings to the research proposed should be indicated.

This section should be used to describe and justify:

  • the existing strength and equity of the research partnership between the UK and African institutions, demonstrating a commitment to research excellence, capacity development and research to improve the health of disadvantaged populations
  • how the existing partnership provides a platform for the proposed research leader activities, both in scientific and developmental terms
  • any existing links between the African research leader candidate and UK co-investigator
  • the proposed broader benefits of the partnership to the African research leader candidate over and beyond collaboration on the specific research proposed
  • how the partnership will provide a unique opportunity to catalyse both leadership and research activities for the candidate.

If appropriate, also indicate and justify any visit or placement to the UK, to provide a period (up to three months in total) of training or career development that cannot be effectively achieved within the African institution. Also state where this will be and how the learning will be used for the wider benefit of the African partner.

Research disruption caused by COVID-19 pandemic (optional)

You have the option to include an additional annex to the case for support.

You can use it to provide additional information explaining any disruptions you have encountered to previous or current research, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic (where relevant to your pending application). This annex should be a maximum of one side of A4, additional to the page limits set out for the case support above.

Reproducibility and statistical design annex (optional)

This must be a maximum of one side of A4, included as part of the case for support.

An additional annex can be included to provide information on reproducibility, and to explain the steps taken to ensure the reliability and robustness of the chosen methodology and experimental design.

Full information regarding this annex can be found in the MRC guidance for applicants (section 2.2.3.5).

Justification of resources

This must be a maximum of two sides of A4.

Data management plan

Page length can vary. See section 2.2.7 of our attachments guidance.

Applicants must use the available data management plan template form.

Letters of support

These need to be PDF copies of signed letters. Please use the Je-S attachment type ‘letter of support’.

They must be a maximum of two sides of A4 (or equivalent), on headed paper per letter.

Host organisation letter of support (mandatory, maximum of two sides of A4)

This is a letter of support from the Vice Chancellor or equivalent at your research organisation. It should include:

  • declaration that it is a government-owned or not-for profit institution
  • a statement about the research supportive environment available at the institution
  • confirmation that you have a contract in place. If you are moving back to SSA, we require confirmation that you will have a contract in place if awarded
  • a description of why the organisation considers you to be a suitable candidate for an African research leader grant
  • commitment to the continuity of support for the African research leader. Describe how the research organisation will support you following the end of the award
  • formal confirmation that the institution agrees to the roles and responsibilities as detailed in the application.

This statement of support should also describe how the host organisation will support you, for instance by providing:

  • guidance and training on setting up a research group, building partnerships and collaborations, or with public engagement
  • rapid access to resources at the research organisation through knowledge of appropriate processes and systems
  • access to career development support and advice to enable future career transitions
  • support for any proposed leadership activities
  • access to laboratory space or investment in equipment to establish the applicant’s laboratory, and access to communal departmental resources.

When uploading the attachment to your Je-S form, please select the attachment type ‘letter of support’ and describe the uploaded document as ‘host organisation letter of support’.

UK mentor letter of support (mandatory, maximum of two sides of A4)

This is a letter of support from your UK mentor describing why they consider you to be a suitable candidate for an African research leader grant.

When uploading the attachment to your Je-S form, please select the attachment type ‘letter of support’ and describe the uploaded document as ‘UK mentor letter of support’.

Placement organisation letter of support and placement template (optional, maximum two sides of A4)

This is a letter of support from the placement organisation confirming their willingness to host the African research leader’s proposed training visit plus details of the proposed placement using the placement template (DOC, 194KB) (as one PDF).

If uploading this ‘optional’ attachment to your Je-S form, please select the attachment type ‘letter of support’ and describe the document as ‘placement confirmation’

Key stakeholder letters of support (optional, maximum two sides of A4)

This is a letter of support from key stakeholders, for example the Ministry of Health.

If uploading this ‘optional’ attachment to your Je-S form, please select the attachment type ‘letter of support’ and describe the document as ‘Key Stakeholder’ (Detail name of Stakeholder).

Project partner letter of support (optional)

This must be a maximum of two sides of A4.

MRC industry collaboration framework (ICF) form and ICF company partner letter of support (optional)

If your application involves the collaboration of one or more industrial partners, you should review the information published within the MRC industry collaboration framework (ICF) to decide if you should submit your application under the ICF.

The ICF company letter of support should be uploaded to the ‘project partner’ section of Je-S, if the application is considered ICF.

How to cost your proposal

Please refer to the MRC’s guidance for applicants for costing of applications. Full financial details will be required.

All grants should be costed on the basis of the full economic costs (fEC) necessary to deliver the research and justified appropriately within your justification of resources attachment.

The majority of the funding will be for work taking place in the African research organisation. MRC will fund 100% of the fEC. Any costs specifically for the UK research organisation will be funded at 80% of the fEC and the research organisation must agree to find the remaining fEC from other resources.

Enter all costs requested, identifying the African and UK costs separately.

African and UK costs

As all applications to this scheme will include overseas costs, it is not necessary to discuss these costs with a programme manager before submission:

  • costs requested by the African organisation should be entered under the ‘Exceptions’ heading and requested at 100% fEC. Capital items cannot be registered as exceptions so to claim 100% of this cost, you should indicate that you are seeking the full amount from MRC
  • please take account of the increasing commitment of the African research organisation in taking on the ARL’s salary when costing your proposal
  • a contribution towards the ‘Estates and Indirect Costs’ is supported by MRC. The African research organisation can request indirect costs up to the value of 20% of their direct costs. These costs should be entered under ‘Exceptions – Other Cost’ and indicated as ‘Contribution towards African RO’s Estates and Indirect Costs’.

To enable MRC to meet transparency and external reporting requirements, the line descriptions for all overseas costs must be entered using the format ‘Organisation: Country: Cost Category: Cost Description’. For example:

  • University of Nairobi: Kenya: Staff: 1 x PDRA
  • University of Nairobi: Kenya: Travel and Subsistence: 4 x flights
  • University of Nairobi: Kenya: Other Directly Incurred Costs: 5 x Workshops including catering and accommodation.

For the UK and MRC Africa units at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), the following applies:

  • normal fEC rules (80%) will apply for costs at UK-based research organisations and the MRC Africa units at LSHTM
  • if the application involves an MRC institute, then it will only be eligible for directly incurred costs (at 100% fEC) as usual.

Please refer to the appropriate section in the MRC guidance for applicants for costing of applications involving MRC units or institutes. Further advice can be sought from the research support office at the unit or institute.

Open access

Projects led by an organisation based in an LMIC can request open access costs as part of their application.

Proposals involving animal use

MRC has published specific guidance relating to the use of animals in research overseas.

Ethics and approvals

Full guidance on ethics and approvals can be found in the MRC guidance for applicants. We ask all applicants to take into consideration the guidance set out in section research involving human participants in lower- and middle-income countries.

Monitoring and evaluation

Applicants are asked to note that there will be specific reporting requirements to monitor the progress of the African research leader awards. One of the key facets of the scheme is the continued engagement with the funders. Further details will be provided following award.

How we will assess your application

Applications will be peer reviewed by external reviewers and considered by an independent expert panel. The panel will shortlist candidates for a virtual interview. The co-investigator mentor from the UK partner institution will also be invited to the interview with the candidate for research leader.

The reviewers’ comments are fed back (verbatim but unattributed) to all candidates after the shortlisting process. Candidates whose proposals are shortlisted will have the opportunity to provide written comment on their reviewers’ feedback prior to the interview.

Shortlisted candidates will normally be notified four weeks before the interview date. Virtual interviews will take place in May 2023.

We reserve the right not to process an application if the scheme’s eligibility criteria and key elements are not met or if the application has not been completed in full or is received after the submission deadline.

Assessment criteria

Referees and interview panel members are asked to assess four key areas:

  • the candidate for research leader
  • the programme of research
  • the African research environment or institution
  • the African-UK institutional partnership.

In assessing proposals, reviewers and panel members are asked to use the following criteria.

The candidate for African research leader

The criteria is as follows:

  • has the candidate demonstrated their potential as a high-calibre researcher and are they a rising star? What track record exists?
    • is the candidate appropriately qualified to undertake the research proposed?
    • has the candidate demonstrated their independence as a research scientist?
  • has the candidate presented a persuasive case that they can carry out and deliver the proposed programme of work?
  • how well does the work fit with other relevant research pursued by the candidate?
  • has the candidate shown that they can effectively cultivate and lead a dynamic research team?
  • does the candidate show potential to be a good ambassador for MRC?

The candidate’s programme of research

The assessment of the programme of research will be the same as that of any research proposal. You should comment on the importance and competitiveness of the proposed research, including:

  • the strength of medical or scientific case
  • how convincing and coherent the overall proposed approach is
  • how well the proposed research addresses the priority health problems of people in SSA
  • has the work already been done or is it being done elsewhere?
  • is it important to pursue this topic now? Is the research timely?
  • the level of innovation and whether that is likely to lead to significant new understanding
  • the level of engagement with key stakeholders (for example, policymakers, end-users and practitioners), where appropriate, to increase the chances of impact or scale-up
  • the management strategy proposed, including equitable access to any shared resources
  • feasibility of experimental plans, including provision of preliminary data where appropriate
  • are the experimental plans realistic, given the aims of the research, timeframe and proposed resources?
  • have major scientific, technical or organisational challenges been identified, and will they be tackled well?
  • does the proposal realistically set out the ultimate potential benefits with respect to improving human health?
  • is it appropriate, of good quality, feasible, value for money and likely to be of benefit?

The African environment or institution: demonstration of a research-conducive environment

The criteria is as follows:

  • does the SSA country offer a stable and research conducive environment?
  • are the African institution’s mission, scientific objectives, strategy, management and governance policies clear?
  • is the African institution’s commitment to the mid- to long-term career of the proposed research leader clear and appropriate?
  • has the African institution adequately described how it will increase its level of financial support of the proposed research leader?
  • has the African institution demonstrated a strong commitment to supporting the research work proposed and the career goals of the candidate?
  • are there well established relationships with the research relevant health services and Ministry of Health?
  • what evidence is there that the institution has a commitment to developing systems for translating research outputs towards health policies, practices and products?
  • is the institution a valued partner in South-South or North-South links, demonstrated through contribution to research networks, joint training and development of initiatives nationally and internationally?
  • has a clear and persuasive case been made for any institutional development needs, relating to the proposed candidate African research leader?

The African-UK institutional partnership

The criteria is as follows:

  • have the African and UK institutions demonstrated the existence of a strong well-developed equitable research partnership with a commitment to research excellence, capacity development and research to improve the health of disadvantaged populations?
  • does the existing partnership provide a clear platform for the future proposed African leader activities, both in scientific and developmental terms?
  • is it clear what the proposed major benefits of the partnership to the research leader candidate over the period of award and beyond are?
  • does this partnership provide an opportunity to catalyse both leadership and research activities for the candidate?
  • how will the proposed African leader’s activities generate added value or synergies for the African institution?
  • how will the learning from any proposed visits to the UK be used for the wider benefit of the African partner?

Justification for resources

The criteria is as follows:

  • are the funds requested essential for the work and do the importance and scientific potential justify funding on the scale requested?
  • are the requested elements clear and appropriate, such as the contribution to the candidate research leader’s personal salary, the costs relating to the research leader’s development (including costs of any visit or placement), the costs relating to the African institutional development in relation to the candidate and the costs relating to the programme of research:
    • African research leaders and UK co-investigators: is the requested time, consistent with their proposed involvement, necessary or sufficient for the successful management of the research, and a realistic expectation of the time they could make available?
    • are the numbers of other research staff appropriate for the work described?
    • this scheme is not primarily intended to support PhD students in obtaining their degree. However, if the candidate has involved PhD students on their research programme, then are the proposed, supervisory arrangements, research and timeframe of the programme appropriate?
  • does the proposal represent good value for money in terms of the resources being requested?

Referees and panel members make their assessment under these main criteria and also identify any ethical issues or risks to human participants that need further attention. The full criteria is detailed in the MRC guidance for peer reviewers.

Contact details

Get help with developing your proposal

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal, please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

Email: arladmin@mrc.ukri.org

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