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MRC/DFID African Research Leader scheme 2018

Please note this opportunity is now CLOSED.
View all OPEN opportunities

  • Status: Closed
  • Open date: 23 Nov 2017
  • Closing date: 27 Feb 2018 16:00 GMT
  • Type: Grants, MRC strategic

The MRC and the UK Department for International Development announce a further call for proposals for the prestigious African Research Leader awards.

This MRC/ DFID jointly funded scheme aims to strengthen research leadership across sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) by attracting and retaining exceptionally talented individuals who will lead high quality programmes of research on key global health issues pertinent to SSA. The African Research Leader (ARL) should be supported by an enthusiastic local research environment and by a strong linkage with a UK partner. 

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Lack of grant funding and research infrastructure in many sub-Saharan African countries can make it difficult to attract and retain talented African scientists and as a result, African nationals are currently under-represented as leaders in medical research in the region. The ARL scheme invites applications from African researchers already based in sub-Saharan African countries and from those individuals currently working overseas who wish to return to SSA. We would particularly welcome high quality applications from female scientists and from investigators across a broad range of disciplines.

The scheme is open to talented and enthusiastic African investigators working in all biomedical and health research areas within the MRC/DFID remit on global health. A series of short case studies about the current awards are available showing the breadth of diseases being tackled and the different models of leadership. Priority will be given to applications that address the key health problems relevant to national and regional health needs and hence best conducted in SSA.

The African Research Leader will be nominated by a UK based principal investigator as part of the partnership between the African and UK institutions. The application must be submitted by the UK institution.

The awards provide support for up to five years. The grant package includes a potential contribution to the African Research Leader’s salary (up to 100% in the first year), funds for a programme of research and support for collaborative activities between the African and UK institutions.  

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Key elements of the scheme 

Strong applications will meet the four key elements of the scheme, namely:

  • a talented ‘rising star’ African Research Leader candidate,
  • a high-quality research programme proposal,
  • a research-conducive academic African environment / institution,
  • a firm partnership with a UK partner institution (where the principal investigator is based).

Each should be described in the case for support which 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.

The African Research Leader Candidate – a rising star 

The ARL scheme seeks to support African researchers already based in sub-Saharan African countries and those individuals currently working overseas who wish to return to SSA.

The focus of the scheme is on ‘rising star’ African Research Leaders. Candidates will be high-calibre, early-mid career researchers who show 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 have completed a PhD, will be well-qualified for academic research having spent at least the last 3 years in active research, be building a track record of independence in their selected field and demonstrating promise as a future research leader.  Outstanding ARL 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.

Researchers who already have a well-established record of securing significant international research grant funding, or have reached a level of seniority e.g. 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.

Applications from women are particularly 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/paternity leave. An allowance will also be made to those researchers whose career has been affected, either by a late start or by an interruption, for personal or family reasons.

As a ‘rising star’, the African candidate will hold an established academic position in an African research institution and be undertaking original research. If a candidate is returning to work in SSA, they are expected to make their own arrangements for obtaining a tenured academic position in an eligible African research institution if one is not already held (and should be in post by the start of any award). The successful ARL candidate would be expected to continue their appointment at the African research institution beyond the term of the ARL award. There are no UK residence eligibility restrictions for this scheme as the ARL candidate will be based in sub-Saharan Africa.

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 3 months) for further career development activities, training or skills development (e.g. research management, mentoring, publication writing, industry internship etc) in either country.

ARL candidates from the MRC Units in The Gambia and Uganda are eligible to apply to this scheme and should contact the office for further guidance.

In this scheme, the MRC/DFID aim to foster research leadership in a variety of academic environments; it is, therefore, unlikely that several awards will be made to any one institution.

Proposed research programme 

The scheme is open to 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 sub-Saharan Africa.

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

Activities can be focussed on any major health priority in sub-Saharan Africa, including infectious diseases (major diseases such as malaria, HIV and TB), neglected tropical diseases, zoonotic and emerging diseases, co-infections and issues associated with emerging resistance to current drugs. Beyond infections, research can focus on nutrition or non-communicable diseases including metabolic, cardiovascular, cancer, respiratory and mental health research or co-morbidities. Basic, fundamental health research approaches, experimental medicine providing mechanistic insight to human diseases, epidemiological (social, genetic, immunological) research, prevention research, public health; systems, modelling and implementation research are all welcomed and if appropriate, research may be targeted to vulnerable or disadvantaged groups including mothers, neonates, children, adolescents or the elderly.

The ARL 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. There are specific strategic streams of funding available for such research proposals. However, it will support observational programmes of epidemiological, laboratory, field and clinical research and early stage developmental research which may be associated with, or lead to future 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.

The majority of the 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 and relevant to the research proposed. 

This scheme is not primarily intended to support PhD studentships in obtaining their degree. PhD overseas fees, allowances and stipends will not be supported. However, if the ARL 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 African Government-owned institutions and well-established ‘not-for-profit’ institutions in sub-Saharan Africa, such as Universities, Medical/Dental Schools and Academic Institutes and the MRC units in Uganda and The Gambia. Please contact the office for further guidance if you are based at one of the Africa units. This scheme aims to foster research leadership in a spectrum of environments; it is, therefore, unlikely that several awards will be made to any one institution.

The African Institution must offer clear research opportunities with appropriate laboratory, field or clinical facilities to enable the research activities proposed. The candidate should be able to draw on support and mentoring from senior individuals, and their career development be nurtured. Where appropriate, fostering of scientific links across sub-Saharan African institutions is encouraged.

The African Institution will be expected to provide 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 TDR/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 but importantly involving strong support from and access to expertise in a UK academic research institution.

The African Research Leadership proposal should, therefore, be submitted in partnership with a UK researcher offering relevant opportunities, such as senior or complementary scientific expertise, skill strengthening, discipline widening, technology sharing, mentoring, etc. The application will be submitted by the UK based principal investigator as part of the partnership between the African and UK institution. The UK partner institution may be any eligible UK research institution, including MRC Institutes and University Units based in the UK. 

The individual scientific partnership between the ARL candidate and the UK principal 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. 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.

The UK research institution will be responsible for the receipt and administration of the scheme funds. However, it is anticipated that most of the funds would be spent in the African institution. 

There is no restriction on the number of applications submitted by each institution however it is highly unlikely that we will make several awards to any one organisation.  

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Funding available 

Funding for the scheme is provided by the UK MRC and the UK Department for International Development (DFID). Awards will provide support for up to 5 years and should not exceed £750k 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) exceptions paid at 100%. Any costs specifically for the UK research institution (including MRC University Units) will be provided on the basis of 80% FEC as usual. Applicants based at the MRC Africa units should contact the office for further advice. Please refer to the MRC Guidance for Applicants.

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

1. The African research institution will be the employer of the African Research Leader. However, a contribution to the personal salary for the Research Leader 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 would take on increasing responsibility for providing the salary and by the end of the award this should be a minimum of 50% of the personal salary.

2. A research programme which could include research support staff, research consumables and equipment, travel costs (between partner institutions), and other necessary costs for the research to be undertaken. Overseas student 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 3 months in total) in an organisation other than the host African research institution. This may be at the UK partner institution or any other UK organisation including a biomedical/ pharmaceutical company. This element is to provide a concentrated period of training/career development that cannot be achieved effectively within the African research institution. This would be in addition to collaborative scientific visits to the UK. The justification for the placement should be robust and details should be submitted on the placement template. Candidates should be prepared at interview to discuss in detail any career development visit proposed.

4. Additionally, 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 financial 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 TDR/ESSENCE website.

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Tenure of award 

It is anticipated that the majority of awards will be between three to five years. The tenure of the award will be for a maximum 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 the award include provision for maternity and paternity leave.

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How to apply 

General guidance:

The usual MRC funding and eligibility rules apply will apply. Please see the MRC Guidance for Applicants and the Research Councils UK website for information regarding eligibility.If you have any queries relating to the eligibility criteria or the remit of your research then please contact the office.

Full applications should be submitted using the Research Councils’ Joint electronic Submission (Je-S) System. Access Je-S guidance for information about the Je-S System, including tips and guidance on system navigation and details of the requirements for each document section. 

Applicants are reminded of their responsibility to engage with their Research Office (RO) and discuss the time period required by the host RO to complete all the necessary application checks before completing the final electronic submission (through Je-S) to the MRC. The MRC have noted that on rare occasions, some applicants have not allowed their RO adequate time to complete all the required checks and electronic processes to enable the successful submission of specific applications before the call has closed. It should also be noted that the MRC will not consider permitting the submission of any late applications, where the applicant has failed to allow their RO adequate time to complete the required checks and complete the final Je-S submission before the advertised call closes.

Scheme-specific guidance:

For this scheme, the UK-based partner should be entered as the Principal Investigator (PI) and the African Research Leader candidate as the first named Co-Investigator (Co-I).

All investigators and their institutions will need to be registered on the Je-S system. Please note that your institution is required to be added first to Je-S, before applicants can create their Je-S account. We strongly suggest that if you have attempted to create your Je-S account (and found that your institution is not available to select), or you wish to first check that your institution is available to select within Je-S, that you contact the Je-S helpdesk, providing the Helpdesk with the following information:

  • The full name of your institution,
  • Your department name (if applicable)
  • The full postal address of your institution (and if also possible any web URL for your institution).

The Je-S Helpdesk will then check the system and either locate your institution or add your institution to the Je-S System. They will then advise you accordingly via email confirming the addition of your institution to the system and advising you that you can then create your Je-S account (for further assistance in creating your Je-S account, please see the document download section of this page). 

Investigators are advised to create their Je-S account as early as possible. PIs and Co-Is will need to create their own individual accounts on the Je-S system. Co-Is can then be added to the proposal and granted editor access by the PI. Please note, when the Co-I has been added to the Je-S application, they will automatically receive Edit rights to the application.

Please contact the Je-S helpdesk if further guidance is required.

Creating your application on Je-S:

When you create your proposal in Je-S you will need to enter the following options to ensure that your proposal is considered under the correct funding scheme:

Select Council: MRC

Select Document Type: Standard Proposal

Select Scheme: Research Grant

Select Call/Type/Mode: African Res Leaders Feb 2018

The ‘Project Title’ should include the name of the proposed Research Leader together with the name of the African institution they will be employed at followed by the title of the research i.e. first initial surname, African Institution - research title. In this way, the proposed ARL will be acknowledged at the outset on the grant. Please be aware that Je-S has room for a maximum of 150 characters including spaces and punctuation.

Please complete all sections of the application. General guidance can be found in the MRC Guidance for Applicants, which will guide you through the standard processes for preparing a proposal, costing your proposals and any ethical and regulatory requirements that may apply to the research.

When you have finished preparing your proposal, clicking ‘submit document’ initially submits the proposal to the UK institution’s administration, not to the MRC. Please ensure you allow sufficient time for the UK institution’s submission process between submitting your proposal to them and the call closing date. The MRC must receive your application by 16:00 (BST) on 27 February 2018 UK time.

Preparing the Case for Support:

The case for support is prepared as a separate attachment and should be a maximum of nineteen A4 sides in length, including references, using Arial 11 pt typeface with margins of 2cms on all sides. Applicants must follow the ARL Case for Support Guidance when completing this section. Applicants are advised to also refer to the assessment criteria for the scheme.

Resources Requested:

All costs must be justified appropriately within your Justification of Resources attachment.

Please refer to the MRC Guidance for Applicants for costing of applications. Full financial details will be required. Please be reminded that this scheme is not primarily intended to support PhD studentships in obtaining their degree and PhD student fees will not be covered by the award.

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

UK costs (excluding MRC units/institutes)

Normal FEC rules (80%) will apply for UK costs.

African costs

  • Costs incurred by the African research institution where the Research Leader will be based are eligible for 100% FEC and these should be registered as 'Exceptions'. Please contact the office for further guidance if you are based at one of the MRC Africa units.
  • Please also include details of the increasing commitment of the African research institution in taking on the Research Leader’s salary.
  • Capital items cannot be registered as exceptions however to claim 100% of this cost you should indicate that you are seeking the full amount from the Research Council.

A contribution towards the Estates and Indirect Costs (calculated as up to 20% of the African institution’s direct costs) can also be requested and should be included within the ‘Directly Incurred Other Costs’ section as ‘Exceptions’ and indicated as “Contribution towards African Research Institution’s Estates and Indirect Costs”.

For this scheme, it is not necessary to obtain prior approval from the office for overseas exceptional costs. You are therefore not required to attach a covering letter to confirm this.

MRC unit/institute costs

If the application involves an MRC unit/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/institutes.

Further advice can be sought from the research support office at the unit/institute or alternatively contact the office.

What to submit:

Your application will consist of the online Je-S proposal form and the following attachments to it:

  • Cover letter (optional)
  • Separate CVs and List of Publications for PI, Co-Is and each named researcher
  • Case for Support (maximum 19 sides of A4; refer to guidance)
  • Justification of Resources
  • Pathways to Impact
  • Data Management Plan
  • Supporting letters (PDF copy of signed letters, please use Je-S attachment type ‘Letter of Support’) from:
    • The Vice Chancellor or equivalent at the African research institution, to include a) declaration that it is a Government-owned/not-for profit institution; b) a statement about the lack of research funding available at the institution and c) formal confirmation that the institution agrees to the roles and responsibilities as detailed in the application (mandatory).
    • The UK placement organisation confirming their willingness to host the Research Leader’s proposed training visit plus details of the proposed placement using the placement template (if appropriate) – as one PDF.
    • Key stakeholders e.g. Ministry of Health (if appropriate).

Please read the MRC Guidance for Applicants, which will provide you with the page limit for the attachments and guide you through the standard processes for preparing a proposal, costing your proposals and any ethical and regulatory requirements that may apply to the research. Please refer to the Case for Support Guidance in preparing your case for support.

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Assessment process 

Applications will be peer reviewed by external reviewers and considered by an independent expert Panel. Please see the specific assessment criteria for this scheme. The Panel will shortlist candidates for interview. The PI 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. Interviews will take place in late July 2018 and will be conducted at MRC Head Office in London. ARL candidates and UK partners should therefore provisionally set aside this time. It is the responsibility of candidates to ensure that they have the necessary visa to attend the interview. Reasonable travel costs (economy class) and accommodation costs will be met by the MRC.

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

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Monitoring and evaluation 

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

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Key dates 



Call open for applications in Je-S

23 November 2017

Application deadline

27 February 2018 (16:00 BST)

Peer review (external)

March-May 2018

Shortlisting Panel meeting

Early June 2018


Late July 2018

Decision to applicants

August 2018


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All administrative and scientific enquiries should be directed to Samia Majid:

Email: ARLadmin@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk

Enquiries relating to the completion of the electronic application should be directed to the Je-S helpdesk:

Email: JeSHelp@je-s.ukri.org

Telephone: +44(0) 1793 444164

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