HEC Organises Awareness Seminar on Grand Challenge Fund

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) organised an awareness seminar on Grand Challenge Fund (GCF) for academia and industry, especially researchers and faculty members at the HEC Secretariat. 

Dr. Zain-ul-Abdin, Director General R&D, HEC and Dr. Athar Osama, GCF Programme Chair, were the keynote speakers on the occasion. The seminar was attended by a large number of faculty members, researchers from universities across the country as well as the industry representatives.      

Dr. Zain-ul-Abdin shed light on salient features of the GCF programme, its objectives, eligibility and requirements for award of the grant, the GCF themes, and specifications of proposals submitted under the programme. He said the GCF aims at stimulating collaborative interdisciplinary research within the strategic priority areas of relevance to present or future Pakistan-based industry and to society. He maintained that the individual grant value is Rs. 15-225 million under the programme.

He underlined that proposals have to be submitted by February 7, 2020, adding that the proposals must be linked to at least one of the strategic priority areas, including food security, water management and sustainability, sustainable energy, sociology and philosophy, development economics, urban planning, climate change and environment, IT and telecommunication, and innovative governance and reforms. The purpose is to identify a national problem and solve it.

DG R&D revealed that the GCF requires setting up a consortium of three to four applicants with at least one applicant from a research-intensive university, cross-disciplinary and relevant complementary scientific expertise, and project participation from industry, public authorities or other relevant organisations. He said a three-stage process is adopted for submission of proposals, including project outline stage, full proposal stage, and presentation to high level expert panel. The maximum project duration is three years, while the expected number of grants per year is 25.

He also elaborated the three-stage evaluation process of proposals for award of grant, saying that the project outline is reviewed at the first stage, followed by full proposal desk evaluation, and presentation to high level expert panel. He also described the procedures followed at the final selection stage.

Sharing a presentation on the history, approach, thematic areas of GCF, Dr. Osama highlighted the models adopted to meet grand challenges in different developed countries. He said Grand Challenges Canada developed a concept called Integrated Innovation to describe the importance and potential impact of combining scientific, technological, social and business innovation.

Highlighting the benefits of the Grand Challenge Approach, he said the Grand Challenges bring “the best minds to the table” by articulating important challenges having the potential to deliver real impact. The Grand Challenges help build and strengthen communities of innovators and they can be used as a platform to address policy and governance issues.

Dr. Osama also referred to the Grand Challenges pursued by the World Health Organisation and the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund, UK’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, USAID’s Grand Challenges for Development. He said the HEC GCF model has been premised on certain critical assumptions. Universities have a central role to play in solving Pakistan’s toughest problems. Private sector and Government partnerships are critical particularly when the former brings in prior Intellectual Property or capability to the consortium and significant development, implementation, or scale up capability. International partnerships will be encouraged when international partner brings a unique value to the protect team. He also explained the GCF 2020 thematic areas and suggested Grand Challenges. 

The Programme Chair said a successful GCF project must clearly demonstrate a solution to a grand challenge of national importance and may result in development of a consensus and coalition for large scale adoption. He further said that the GCF funded project must create a body of knowledge available to policymakers and practitioners seeking to address a problem.

The GCF is a key element of the Higher Education Development in Pakistan Project supported by the World Bank and implemented by HEC. It is anticipated to promote research excellence in strategic sectors of economy, providing funds to selected institutions based on a competitive, peer-reviewed evaluation process of proposals. 

Under the GCF, applications can be submitted in response to a call for proposals. Proposals have currently been invited. The submission of proposals must be made through the HEC portal i.e., according to the guidelines provided in the Call for Proposals. The GCF grand awards are made to the host higher education institutions lead PIs.

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