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UCL Grand Challenges

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The UCL Grand Challenges approach

Since 2009, the UCL Grand Challenges have changed the way our researchers investigate the world’s problems. This approach has fostered cross-disciplinary research at UCL on a large scale and we aim to expand upon that success.

UCL Grand Challenges aims to bring researchers together at our university and set the agenda for future research, while building bridges with many external partners.

We do this by awarding small grants to UCL researchers, funding major projects and supporting events led by our academics.

Complementing the Grand Challenges, UCL has set up a number of Research Domains, cross-disciplinary research communities designed to help academics from different subject areas get together round a common theme.

Bringing researchers together

UCL Grand Challenges has facilitated hundreds of new connections between researchers at the university, at all levels.

Setting the agenda

UCL Grand Challenges does not seek to solve the world’s problems; rather it is committed to establishing the intellectual basis for solutions to be found. Through the cross-disciplinary research that UCL Grand Challenges supports, new approaches can emerge and valuable data is gathered. In this way, our small interventions have a significant impact.

‘Impact’ (the influence of research on the world) is the ultimate objective of our work. It is made possible in several ways identified in the UCL Research Strategy: the beneficial application of expertise, knowledge, analysis, discovery or insight, primarily delivered through scholarly outputs, education, public engagement, translational research, commercial and social enterprise activity, and influence on public policy and professional practice. We believe that cross-disciplinary research like that fostered by the UCL Grand Challenges can have a major impact on solving some of the world’s most pressing problems.

External engagement

Projects supported by UCL Grand Challenges have involved many individuals and organisations outside the university. We have built bridges between academics and charities, lobby groups and local authorities, in order to increase the reach of our expertise and make a difference through interventions in the real world.

Small Grants

The UCL Grand Challenges Small Grants scheme is just one way that we help to support academics across the university. The scheme provides funding of between £500 and £4000 to academic teams at UCL, ideally made up of members from different faculties.

This graph visualises the collaborations between researchers in UCL departments and divisions facilitated by UCL Grand Challenges Small Grants, from its establishment in 2009 to the end of the 2016/17 academic year


Project funding

The UCL Grand Challenges have funded several major projects through decisions made by the Working Groups. This entails funding greater than the £4,000 limit of the Small Grants scheme, for much larger research projects.

London 2062

Examples of this targeted funding include the London 2062 project, part of the UCL Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities.

London 2062 gathered evidence about the forces and factors that shape London, and identified points of debate and decision regarding what the city might be five decades from now. The project involved synthesising the diverse expertise within the academic community at UCL and elsewhere, together with London’s citizens, government, professions, artists, media and other public institutions.

A series of symposia on London 2062 were followed by the publication of a book (available to download for free) and several briefings for policymakers.

Event funding and support

UCL Grand Challenges also provides support for events at UCL that highlight or focus on cross-disciplinary research. The programme has supported roundtables, workshops and public debates that fit within a relevant UCL Grand Challenges theme.

Africa Voices

The Africa Voices series of events was run by the UCL African Studies Centre with support from all four of the UCL Grand Challenges that existed in 2015. The series brought together academics from across Africa to discuss the challenges facing the continent today, focusing on transport, archaeology, healthcare, urbanisation and the role of universities in the continent’s development.

UCL Research Domains

The UCL Research Domains are large cross-disciplinary research communities spanning several academic faculties and partner organisations (such as UCL Partners – UCL’s Academic Health Sciences Centre attached to UCL Hospital). They are designed to help academics from different areas of specialist knowledge and expertise get together round a common theme. In practical terms Domain staff help UCL researchers to develop proposals offering unique approaches to solving hard problems in research. Thus the Domains enhance UCL’s capacity to undertake internationally leading research through creating alliances between its key areas of strength.

The current Research Domains are:

More Domains are set to be launched in the future.