Sustainable Cities

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UCL VSU and Grand Challenges Student Projects Fund


The Grand Challenges draw upon UCL’s research excellence in order to encourage cross-disciplinary collaborations that will mitigate and prevent those circumstances that produce needless suffering, ill health, stress, misunderstanding, conflict and the unsustainable use of the Earth’s resources. UCL’s four Grand Challenges are Global Health, Sustainable Cities, Intercultural Interaction and Human Wellbeing.

The Grand Challenges are part of UCL’s Research Strategy, which fosters:

  • leadership within and beyond discipline-based research;
  • expansion of the distinctive cross-disciplinarity of our research, collaboration and partnerships;
  • and aims to increase the impact of our research locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. 

The purpose of this grant is to enable students to apply their studies or research to the benefit of the wider community in a way that connects with one of the Grand Challenges. Funding will be given to practical, exciting projects that are well planned and have a realistic chance of success. Proposed activities may be drawn from, based around, or linked into existing UCL research activity (being undertaken by students or staff). Entirely novel activities may also be proposed if evidence of appropriate academic mentorship is provided.

The promotion of the grant will also enable us to raise awareness of the Grand Challenges amongst the student body and provide a practical way for them to engage with them.

Grants of up to £750 are available.


Proposals must fulfil the following criteria to be considered for funding.

  • Be well planned and have a realistic chance of success.
  • Be led entirely by UCL students.
  • Address one of the UCL Grand Challenges of Global Health, Sustainable Cities, Intercultural Interaction and Human Wellbeing.
  • Apply the students’ UCL studies or research to the benefit of the wider community. However, we will not fund activities that directly receive academic credit.
  • Be completed within 12 months of approval, or before the applicants finish their studies at UCL (whichever is sooner).

Potential Projects

  1. Exploring sustainable approaches to city living, e.g. urban agriculture
  2. Creating opportunities for people to share their cultures
  3. Promoting active and healthy lifestyles, especially amongst vulnerable groups
  4. Turning student research into policy materials for NGOs, Local Authorities or central Government
  5. Supporting migrant groups in London
  6. Strategy development in organisations that work with the homeless
  7. Helping community organisations to reduce their energy usage
  8. Promoting an understanding of concepts of human rights
  9. Exploring ways in which new technologies and behavioural change interventions can be deployed in local health promotion

How this fund differs from other UCL schemes

  • The VSU Innovations Programme supports student volunteering projects that directly benefit communities within London. The Grand Challenges Student Projects Fund will only fund projects that reflect the Grand Challenges. It is open to projects outside of London (indeed, internationally). We will also fund projects that have more indirect benefits, such as a conference or piece of research.
  • The Step Out Scheme (funded by the Public Engagement Unit) supports public engagement project led by students that relate to their research or studies. Again, this new grant will only support those projects that relate to the Grand Challenges, but there is no requirement for direct public engagement (i.e. the sharing of knowledge between academia and wider society). The Grand Challenges Student Fund concerns the application of academic knowledge to wider societal problems; Step Out covers the sharing or co-production of knowledge with a non-academic community.
  • The new Social Enterprise Fund, funded through the office of the vice-Provost (Education), will apply to larger projects and stand-alone social businesses set up by UCL students. The grant size is larger (up to £4000) and will not be tied to students research or studies.
  • For more information about different grants available from the VSU, visit

Application Process

Students will complete the application form and submit it to the VSU. They will be invited to present their project idea to the VSU Small Grants Panel, which meets every 2 weeks during term time (and less frequently during vacation periods). The applicants will usually receive a decision within 1 working day.

Please email forms to John Braime at

Project Management

Successful applicants will be required to sign a funding agreement. Funds will be managed by the VSU or, if more suitable, within the students’ academic department. Funding will not be transferred to personal bank accounts.

Students will be required to return monthly monitoring forms to the VSU and an end of project evaluation. The VSU will provide support as part of the Innovations Programme package available to UCL students.