UCL Grand Challenges


Areas of Interest

All six Grand Challenges are working together to support collaborations that addresses the themes of Place, Age, and the UN SDGs

    Special Initiative Themes for AY 2022/23

    In academic year 2022/23 the six Grand Challenges will work together to support work under the overarching themes of:

    Climate Crisis 
    Human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world, despite efforts to reduce the risks. People and ecosystems least able to cope are being hardest hit.
    (IPCC Sixth Assessment, Press Release February 2022)

    The Climate Crisis requires collaborative, cross-disciplinary and cross-boundary responses. This special initiative will provide support for those collaborations. Examples of current UCL research interest and researchers addressing the breadth of this challenge can be found at the UCL Climate Hub and the UCL Environment Domain.

    Food Security

    While it is widely accepted that growing global populations, urbanisation, and the climate crisis represent major risks for future food production, the long-lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the current conflict in Ukraine present a particular set of challenges for international food security. A recent report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated that between 720 and 811 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020, and the negative outcomes of malnutrition disproportionately affect the most vulnerable populations.

    UCL Grand Challenges’ special initiative of Food Security will provide the opportunity for researchers across UCL to identify topics that require cross-disciplinary attention as a basis for further research, for problematizing current debates, and considering critical issues.

    Place & Displacement 

    Recent conflicts and political events have also served as a sharp reminder of the place-based dimension of human rights and how hard-fought struggles for equality can dissipate rapidly. The special initiative of Place & Displacement will support projects that take a cross-disciplinary approach to societal challenges that are place-based or are linked to displacement. 

    UN SDGs: Pathways to Achievement

    This theme supports cross-disciplinary and cross-boundary collaborations that address the achievement of the SDGs (the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals), also known as the Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

    17 UN SDGs: 169 Targets for a Better World

    The 17 Sustainable Development Goals were laid out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The goals incorporate 169 specific targets which would lead to a better world by 2030.

    You can view a set of statistics for UK progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals produced by the ONS.

    Previously supported themes include: 'Place: Equality & Prosperity', 'Intergenerational Dynamics' and 'Green Recovery from COVID-19'.

    Previous Special Initiative Funding Awards

    Evolving the Grand Challenges

    The UCL Strategic Plan 2022-27 Consultation includes a plans to evolve the Grand Challenges programme, and introduces four new candidate themes:

    1. Climate Crisis
    2. Inequality
    3. Data-Empowered societies
    4. Mental Wellbeing

    Grand Challenges Areas of Interest 

    In addition to the overall Grand Challenge focus on the UN SDGs, there are areas of interest for each Grand Challenge:

    Global Health

    • Non-communicable diseases
    • Health inequities
    • Mental health
    • Critical Global Health
    • Environment and health

    Sustainable Cities

    • Future Cities
    • Rethinking Housing
    • Resourcing Cities
    • Transformative Cities
    • Urban Mobility

    Human Wellbeing

    • Achieving happiness
    • Environment and wellbeing
    • Adolescent and student wellbeing
    • Ageing well
    • Research ethics

    Cultural Understanding

    • Decolonising Research
    • Cultural Engagement & Wellbeing
    • Growing up Multicultural
    • Immigration
    • Dynamics of Globalisation

    Justice & Equality

    • Structural & Relational Inequalities 
    • Cultural Heritage & Diversity
    • Democracy & Place
    • Exclusion & Displacement
    • Access & Participation

    Transformative Technology

    • Bigger Data, Better Data
    • Disability Innovation
    • Nature-Inspired Engineering
    • Responsible Innovation
    • Waste