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The Wellcome Trust shuffles its Arts and Social Sciences funding portfolio

In today’s blog, Al Innes, Research Development Officer, looks at how the Wellcome Trust is set to pause its major humanities and social sciences grant schemes, in favour of two new one-off schemes, in a change in approach for the funder.

As of January 2020 The Wellcome Trust’s Investigator and Collaborative Award schemes in the social sciences and humanities will be paused for a year. In their place, two schemes aimed at boosting global research capacity will be launched. Both aimed at boosting capacity in medical humanities and social science research.

The Research Development Awards in Humanities, Social Science and Bioethics are open to groups of research leaders at eligible institutions anywhere in the world. Wellcome sees these as awards designed for researchers looking to consolidate their research leadership and take risks in their chosen field. Projects should last between three and five years, with Wellcome offering up to £1 million per project. The award is designed for groups of academics who want the time and resources to be able to push boundaries in their discipline, and beyond their traditional work.

Wellcome made a sea-change back in 2013 to encourage more applications in the Medical Humanities and through their Society and Ethics programme, beyond traditional historical research.

The International Exchange Programmes in Humanities, Social Science and Bioethics is designed to enable researchers, with at least one group based in the UK, to run global exchanges (of between three to five years and up to £1.5m). This funding is positioned to help researchers to run international exchange programmes and gain in-depth experience of working and teaching outside their home countries.

Jack Harrington, Wellcome’s portfolio manager, is clear about why this new direction is right for Wellcome. Speaking to Ashleigh Furlong at Research Professional, Harrington said:

“Wellcome tries to help create new knowledge and build an exciting research environment. In that regard, we’ve been delighted with the new knowledge we’ve created through the Investigator and Collaborative Awards. But now we want to focus on building an exciting research environment that makes transformative research possible, and that is what we are looking to do with this call. We paused the Investigator and Collaborative Awards to make the funds available to do this one-off call.”

While the new schemes are seen as one-offs it is entirely possible that Wellcome will look to continue this approach in future years. What is clear though is that Wellcome will continue with major arts, humanities and social sciences funding on a large scale in future. They have underpinned their AHSS offer with the Research Resources Awards in Humanities and Social Science, which is indicative of long-term capacity building. Harrington continued:

“There’s a strong possibility that we might do similar calls in the future. But what we’ll definitely be doing after this round is a return to major research funding.”

The Investigator and Collaborative Award schemes will continue to run as normal until 2020 with the last preliminary deadline before the funding pause will be in January 2020, with awards being made in July 2020.

Preliminary deadlines for the two new calls will be in March 2020. Awards are likely to be made in early 2021 with Wellcome anticipating that funding for research proposals for established researchers will return in the academic year 2021/22.

Information sessions

The Wellcome Trust will be holding a series of information sessions on the new calls in autumn 2019.

  • 25 September (14:00 – 16:00) – London, Wellcome (fully booked)
  • 02 October (13:00 – 15:00) – University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
  • 07 October (14:00 – 16:00) – University of Leeds, Leeds
  • 07 November (14:00 – 16:00) – Wellcome, London

If you want to register for a session, email  by 11 September 2019. Please put ‘HSS information session’ in the subject line and include the following details:

  • name, department, organisation
  • your first and second choice of dates
  • whether you are interested in International Exchange Programmes or Research Development Awards.

The sessions will be live streamed and will be made available afterwards for those unable to attend.

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Al Innes


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