UK Research Aid: Tied, Opaque and Off-Topic?

July 25, 2019


The UK has considerably increased the amount of aid it spends on research in recent years. This policy follows statements by DFID that research is among the best ways of spending aid. It also follows the UK legislating a commitment to spend 0.7 percent of GNI as foreign aid. In pursuing this target, the UK has decreased the proportion of bilateral aid spent through DFID and has channelled more through other departments. BEIS and the Department for Health and Social Care have been big recipients, and research accounts for much of their increased share of aid budgets. 

The information associated with the majority of this research aid is vague, raising questions about transparency. A large amount of the research is financed using an allocation mechanism that effectively ties it to UK institutions. There are also questions as to the poverty focus of some of the research conducted, given the explicit intention of the UK government to find existing activity to reclassify as ODA following the legislating of the 0.7 percent target. 

We suggest reporting reforms that will increase transparency and allow greater scrutiny of the way UK research aid is spent. We also call for the UK to live up to its reporting to the OECD that all British aid is untied. 

CGD is a recipient of DFID research grants.

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