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Zibah Nwako et al

Doing harm: The impact of UK’s GCRF cuts on research ethics, partnerships, and governance

In Spring 2021, during the Covid-19 pandemic, research projects funded by the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) were subjected to budget cuts. The cuts were the result of UK government’s decision to reduce its Official Development Assistance (ODA), which had devastating effects for humanitarian, development and research work.

Authors: Zibah Nwako, Tigist Grieve, Rafael Mitchell, Julia Paulson, Tania Saeed, Kelsey Shanks and Rachel Wilder


This article draws on focus group discussions with project teams working on three large GCRF funded projects to explore the effects of these cuts. The article documents how the cuts curtailed project aspirations and impact, had a negative toll on the mental health of researchers, and imperiled the trusting relationships upon which international research collaborations are built. The article argues that the cuts expose the shallow commitments to research ethics and equitable partnerships of powerful actors in the UK research ecosystem, including research councils and government. In ‘doing harm’ via these cuts, the article explores the failure of research governance structures and the continued coloniality underpinning the UK’s approach to researching ‘global challenges.’

Keywords: GCRF budget cuts, research ethics, research governance, partnership, coloniality

Key Messages:

  • The ODA budget cuts caused extensive harms to researchers and partners leading to reduced impacts.
  • The GCRF case exposed inadequate research ethics and governance procedures.
  • The cuts highlighted the shallow UK institutional commitments to equitable South-North partnerships and continued coloniality.
  • Political intrusion and contractual violations led to a distrust of the UK government.

Doing harm: The impact of UK’s GCRF cuts on research ethics, partnerships, and governance

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This is the pre-print version of a published paper. The published paper is available in the Global Social Challenges Journal here :  

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