Supporting research projects with multiples partners, grant aims to resolve key issues of national interest

More than 700 applications received for mega GCF grant launched by HEC

Islamabad, May 22, 2020:  More than 700 applications have been received in the Grand Challenge Fund (GCF) launched by HEC in February 2020. Supported by The World Bank-funded Higher Education Development in Pakistan (HEDP) project, GCF is a unique research programme. Its aim is to encourage university professors to help solve the pressing problems facing the country.

"For too long HEC funded research projects without asking whether they had any impact. GCF is different; its very ethos is to assess the quality of research on how it will contribute to socio-economic development in Pakistan, how it will help solve the problems that confront us, and how it will support our communities, our businesses, our farmers, and our government agencies in making decisions that improve the lives of ordinary citizens. GCF is a very competitive grant. The success rate is no more than 3 or 4 per cent. Grants will go through a peer-reviewed evaluation by high-level committees. We do expect papers to be published in the best journals. But we also expect to see results on the ground," said Chairman HEC Tariq Banuri in a statement issued here in Islamabad.

In Phase-I (year 20-21), 25 proposals will be selected out of over 700 submissions. The maximum duration of each grant project is three years, and the maximum grant amount is Rs. 150 million. In this phase, the challenge statements (i.e., problems to be solved) have been kept relatively broad. These are in nine thematic areas, namely Food Security; Water Management and Sustainability; Sustainable Energy; Sociology and Philosophy; Development Economics; Urban Planning; Climate Change and Environment; Information Technology and Telecom; and Innovative Governance and Reforms.

To ensure high quality of research, 32 research intensive universities from across the Pakistan are identified by HEC, who will be the key partners in GCF. Faculty members from these universities have been asked to collaborate with faculty members from other universities, both within and outside Pakistan, as needed. The proposals will go through a rigorous cycle of evaluation and review by specialized panels of experts. To ensure the transparency of the evaluation process, the reviewers have been asked to declare any potential conflict of interest. Anyone who has a potential conflict of interest has to recuse themselves from the panel. Also, in keeping with best practice internationally, the detailed comments will be kept in confidence. Both accepted and rejected proposal applicants will be intimated by HEC.

HEC has funded thousands of research projects in the past, and this has led to a 15-fold number of research articles published in recognized journals every year, in addition to some industry agreements and new startups. However, the impact on the ground is very limited. With GCF, a new system of selection as well as monitoring and evaluation has been introduced to orient researchers towards achieving more concrete outcomes, such as higher productivity and efficiency, more equitable allocation systems, better health systems, and more exports.

The Higher Education Development in Pakistan (HEDP) is a five-year project (2019/20 – 2023/24) being implemented by HEC, with support from the World Bank. It aims to support research excellence in strategic sectors of the economy, improve teaching and learning, and strengthening governance in higher education.

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