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UK academics to set up international networks for tackling development challenges

Date: 19/09/2017

A group of international academic networks, led by Universities based in the UK, are being set up to conduct collaborative arts and humanities-based research into some of the world’s most pressing development challenges.

These include how the heritage sector can generate jobs and growth in East Africa, and how the voluntary sector can work with young people in countries emerging from conflict. 

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has announced that five major new interdisciplinary networks will be based at universities across the UK using more than £9m from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). The 5 networks will run from October 2017 for up to 4 years, and will showcase the distinctive contribution that arts and humanities research can bring to development in low and middle income countries.

Announced by the UK Government in November 2015, the GCRF is a £1.5 billion fund to support cutting-edge research and ensure the UK takes a leading role in global development. By working with world leading researchers and institutions, the fund contributes to addressing the complex global issues faced by developing countries. It focuses on challenge-led, multidisciplinary research, providing an agile response to emergencies in need of urgent analysis and strengthening the UK and developing countries’ capability for research.

Each of the multi-institutional and cross-disciplinary teams will work extensively with researchers, organisations, and communities based on the ground to build partnerships and deliver effective solutions that demonstrate the importance of areas such as culture, languages, identities and local contexts as foundations for addressing development challenges.

The five networks will bring new perspectives to a broad range of geographical areas and development challenges by researching:

  • Slavery in Sub-Saharan Africa, led by the University of Liverpool;
  • Young people in post-conflict scenarios in Africa, South America and Eastern Europe, led by the University of Leeds;
  • Historical and cultural approaches to democracy in politically fragile states, in particular Myanmar and Ethiopia, led by the School of Oriental and African Studies;
  • The use of cultural heritage for economic growth and social cohesion in East Africa led by the University of Nottingham;
  • New historical research for education and post-conflict development in Iraq and neighbouring countries led by the University College London.

The AHRC funds will be allocated through the ‘Network Plus’ model. This is designed to bring together a wide range of UK arts and humanities research expertise with researchers and non-academic partners in low and middle income countries. Researchers will take an area-focused approach shaped by the needs of particular places and communities.

The networks will support the co-production of research through three linked strands of activity:

  • initial scoping, capability development and partnership building
  • new funding calls
  • evaluation and legacy planning

They will work extensively with more than 40 international research organisations and non-academic partners, such as the British Council, Basrah Museum, the Enlightened Myanmar Research Foundation, the South African Holocaust and Genocide Foundation, and UNESCO.

Professor Andrew Thompson, Chief Executive of the AHRC and Chair of the Research Councils UK (RCUK) Research, Innovation & Strategy Advisory Board, said: “The Arts and Humanities Research Council is delighted to support these important new networks. Partnerships between leading researchers in the UK and the Global South are vital in bringing innovative approaches to, and deep understanding of, some of the most pressing challenges of our time.

“The Arts and Humanities have a critical role to play in tackling development challenges, building capacity in partner countries, and laying a foundation for future collaborations in development research.”  

 The funded Networks are:

  • The Antislavery Knowledge Network: community-led strategies for creative and heritage-based interventions in Sub-Saharan Africa. Lead researcher, Dr Alex Balch from the University of Liverpool, said: “Our network joins three of the main UK centres on research into slavery with leading antislavery NGOs and a range of academic and non-academic partners across West and Central Africa in Ghana, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    “This network will explore how approaches from the arts and humanities can shift antislavery efforts towards a more community-engaged, human rights focus that delivers real development impacts.

  • Changing the Story: building inclusive civil societies with, and for, young people in five post-conflict countries. Lead researcher, Professor Paul Cooke from the University of Leeds, said: “The aim of this project is to evaluate present, and inform future, practice of civil society organisations working with young people in ‘post-conflict’ settings, in order to build strong institutions that can support communities to deliver sustained social justice.
  • Deepening democracy in extremely politically fragile countries: networking for historical, cultural and arts research on Parliaments and people. Lead researcher, Professor Emma Crewe from the School of Oriental and African Studies, said: “The Global Research Network on Parliaments and People will be creating opportunities for national scholars in extremely politically fragile states, especially Ethiopia and Myanmar, to develop their capacity to undertake interdisciplinary research on politics. This will enhance scrutiny, understanding, and support for the processes and relationships required to deepen democracy.
  • Rising from the Depths Network: utilising marine cultural heritage in East Africa to help develop sustainable social, economic and cultural benefits. Lead researcher, Dr Jon Henderson from the University of Nottingham, said: “The Rising from the Depths Network will identify ways in which marine cultural heritage can directly benefit coastal communities in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar.

    “The project will establish and maintain a trans-boundary and cross-sector network of arts and humanities-led researchers, government officers, scientists, policy makers, UN officials, NGOs, ICT professionals and specialists working in heritage, infrastructure and the offshore industry, to identify new opportunities and methodologies for protecting and utilising the marine cultural heritage of East Africa to stimulate alternative sources of income, foster local identities, and enhance the value and impact of overseas aid in the marine sector.”

  • The Nahrein Network: new ancient history research for education in Iraq and its neighbours. Lead researcher, Professor Eleanor Robson from University College London, said: “The network will foster the capacity of Middle Eastern universities, museums and cultural heritage organisations to better serve local needs and interests. Projects with UNAMI and Al-Amal Association will promote ancient history as a ‘safe’ space for public debate around post-conflict reconciliation and reconstruction.

    “Collaborations with UNESCO Iraq, local NGOs and community groups will stimulate local tourism and knowledge economies. Dialogue with youth groups, students, universities, and employers, to identify and develop valued transferable skills will yield improved employability for young humanities graduates across the region.

More information about international funding opportunities can be found via  http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/funding/internationalfunding/


For further press information and images please contact:

Press and Social Media Officer Joe Lewis T: 01793 41 6021 M: 07925891633 E: j.lewis@ahrc.ac.uk

Notes to Editors:

  • For more information about the original call for proposals please visit http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/funding/apply-for-funding/archived-opportunities/gcrf-network-plus/
  • For a full list of investigators and project partners please visit
    All partner organisations are based in the UK unless otherwise stated.
  • The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) supports cutting-edge research and innovation that addresses the global issues faced by developing countries.
    It harnesses the expertise of the UK’s world-leading researchers, focusing on: funding challenge-led disciplinary and interdisciplinary research; strengthening capability for research, innovation and knowledge exchange; and providing an agile response to emergencies where there is an urgent research or on-the-ground need.
    It is a £1.5 billion fund which forms part of the UK Government’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment and is overseen by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and delivered through 17 delivery partners including the Research Councils, the UK Academies, the UK Space Agency and funding bodies.
  • For more information about AHRC, our research and our impact see: www.ahrc.ac.uk
    The Arts and Humanities Research Council funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: history, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, languages, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98 million to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits and contributes to the economic success of the UK but also to the culture and welfare of societies around the globe. You can find out more information via www.ahrc.ac.uk or following us on Twitter at @ahrcpress, on Facebook at Arts and Humanities Research Council, or Instagram at @ahrcpress
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