UK has key partnership role in strengthening global and equitable research capacity

7 October, 2021

A new briefing paper from the UK Collaborative on Development Research (UKCDR) shows how the UK can play a key partnership role in strengthening research systems in low- and middle-income countries to tackle global issues.

The UK Government and Wellcome have spent £873m on 71 standalone research capacity strengthening (RCS) programmes in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) over the last five years. £1.2bn was also spent on 62 programmes where capacity building is embedded within wider objectives.

In its latest briefing paper, UKCDR has unpacked the nature of this investment and its implications for longer-term UK’s partnerships.

There is a strong case for maintaining this investment. Strong research and innovation capacities in LMICs underpin socio-economic development. Recent global work on COVID-19 diagnostics has shown that in a flatter and more equally threatened world, we can all benefit from globally and equitably distributed efforts to create research capacity.

Funding has been targeted at multiple levels – ranging from awards to individuals to investment to ensure systematic change – which has led to diverse impacts highlighted in seven case studies. From strengthened research skills and research management systems, research productivity, new national/international collaborations, to creating an enabling environment for research.

These approaches across funders have brought different and complementary added value to RCS support in LMICs, enabling greater reach and impact in different disciplines, but there is space for better join-up and impact.

John Kirkland, Interim Executive Director for UKCDR said:

“The UK is a significant investor in capacity strengthening. Continuity of these investments, and recognition of the need for them to reflect recipient country needs, is important if the UK is to remain a partner of choice for many low- and middle-income nations.

Our report also demonstrates the need for UK funders to have a joined-up long-term vision to maximise impact. There is a need for continued mapping and enhanced evaluation to ensure maximum visibility.”

The briefing offers recommendations to funders for the future sustainability, coherence and impact of UK investments into RCS in LMICs.  It suggests that funders should:

  • Continue to support RCS at the individual, institutional and system level, as part of a holistic approach.
  • Continue to ensure RCS investments are demand-led and move to in-country led models.
  • Explore opportunities for joined-up country and institutional support.
  • Pay particular attention to identifying models which support countries and institutions with lower research capacity.
  • Look to expand RCS more evenly across disciplines
  • Build a shared evidence based on what works in RCS.

UKCDR are aiming to build on these recommendations through a more detailed learning report to understand what has been learned from designing, implementing, and evaluating UK-funded RCS programmes.  Publication of this is expected in 2022.

Links to the briefing paper, infographic and case studies can be found here:


For queries about the briefing paper contact:

Yaso Kunaratnam

Research & Policy Officer

Nicole Huxley

Communications Manager

+44 (0)20 7611 2093

UK Collaborative on Development Research

c/o The Wellcome Trust, Gibbs Building, 215 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE

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