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Strategic Priorities Fund: Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Food Systems

Copyright: Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

Application deadline: 28 July 2020, 16:00

Covid-19 and extension of the CDT deadline

In light of the recent Covid-19 pandemic we will be extending the deadline for this call to 16:00 28th July 2020, with interviews being held on 16th September 2020.

Call Summary

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) in partnership with government are pleased to announce a £5 million call to support one Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) focused on developing the next generation of interdisciplinary food systems thinkers. This CDT is part of a wider £47.5 million interdisciplinary research programme seeking to transform the UK food system and is led by the Global Food Security Programme (GFS) and supported by UKRI’s Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF). The call is administered by BBSRC, in partnership with ESRC, MRC, NERC, Defra, DHSC, PHE, Innovate UK and FSA.

This CDT will ensure a pipeline of skilled individuals who are able to apply holistic and critical interdisciplinary food systems thinking to health and sustainability challenges in academia, government, business and civil society organisations, and who will lead the way in transforming the UK food system. It will support three cohorts of doctoral candidates beginning in October 2021 and as a legacy will develop the next generation of food system thinkers.


6 March 14:30 – 15:30

We will be holding a webinar to allow applicants to ask questions / raise queries.

Please email if you are interested in joining.

Purpose & Aims

The Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) has been established to drive an increase in high-quality multi- and interdisciplinary research and innovation; and ensure that UKRI’s investments link up effectively with Government departments’ research priorities.

The Food Systems SPF is an interdisciplinary programme of research and training that will help transform the UK food system by placing healthy people and a healthy natural environment at its centre. It will address questions around what we should eat, produce and manufacture in the UK and what we should import. In doing so it will consider the complex interactions between health, environment and behavioural factors, while taking into account wider needs for different groups in society. This will enable a joined-up approach across healthy and accessible diets and sustainable food production and supply, delivering coherent evidence to enable concerted action from government, business and civil society. The Food Systems SPF seeks to address a range of well-defined policy drivers, including reducing obesity and diet-related ill health; reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture and food production; and achieving net-zero GHG emissions by 2050.

Healthy people and a healthy environment are intrinsically linked through food, and it is only by taking a systemic, holistic, interdisciplinary approach, otherwise known as a ‘food systems approach’ that we can deliver the changes that are required. A system is a set of things working together as part of an interconnected whole. The food systems approach encapsulates the actors, behaviours and outcomes involved in land use, agriculture, aquaculture, storage, processing, manufacture, retail and consumption, alongside the interdependencies, pressures and drivers (see Figure 1 for a representation of the food system).

This CDT aims to produce a cohort of researchers with the capability, awareness and openness to work collaboratively across disciplines, sectors and the food system in order to understand and address academic, economic and societal challenges. This will be supported through the undertaking of an interdisciplinary research project integrating aspects of natural and social science, placements in UK food system stakeholder organisations, centrally delivered food system training, peer-to-peer learning and cohort building activities.

Figure 1. An indicative representation of the food system produced by City University of London. For more information on the food system depicted here, see The Centre for Food Policy Brief

Funding details

One CDT will be awarded worth a total of £5 million to support approximately 45 four- year studentships over three consecutive intakes, with the first starting in October 2021. £300K of this budget must be allocated to coordination activities through a Flexible Supplement Fund.

Awards will be made in the form of single profiled training grants. The normal flexibility of UKRI training grants will apply, enabling institutions to part-fund studentships from other sources. Whilst co-funding is not a requirement, UKRI would strongly encourage institutions to seek co-funding whenever possible to support collaborative elements of studentships, and to increase value for money.


All UK-based research organisations, or consortia, that are eligible to receive UKRI funding for research and have the infrastructure in place to deliver doctoral training will be eligible to submit a proposal. We are keen to see the training of doctoral candidates in broad-based centres of research excellence which promote and facilitate inter- and multidisciplinary working and expose doctoral candidates to a wide range of expertise.

To be eligible proposals must have a minimum of two institutional partners (noting that larger consortia are strongly encouraged) to cover the breadth of the food system and multiple disciplines. Partnerships must include at least one degree-awarding Research Organisation. There is no limit to the number of Research Organisations that can be involved in a multi-institutional Partnership and degrees can be awarded from any eligible Research Organisation in the Partnership. 

We expect the proposals to represent a consortia of academic and non-academic organisations and proposals must have at least one Full or Associate Partner from each of the following: business, civil society and UK government.

For this call only: Public Sector Research Establishments (PSREs) with 10 or more researchers with PhDs (or equivalent) are eligible to apply. Any PSREs wishing to apply but have not previously applied for UKRI funding and are not currently designated IRO status will be required to complete an eligibility form (see: UK Research and Innovation: Application for eligibility to apply to UK Research and Innovation for research funding) to ensure they have the required research capacity, systems and controls in place to manage the research and grant funding. To note all partnerships must include at least one degree-awarding Research Organisation. PSRE applicants should contact at the earliest opportunity to discuss their interests in applying.


Proposals are invited for a Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) that will deliver a pipeline of skilled individuals who are able to apply holistic and critical interdisciplinary food systems thinking to health and sustainability challenges in academia, government, business, and civil society organisations. The CDT will bring together Research Organisations and stakeholders to develop interdisciplinary studentships that cover different parts of the food system, provide opportunities for doctoral candidates to engage with food system actors and stakeholders, and to gain a contextualised understanding of their research within the food system as a whole.

All studentship projects must be interdisciplinary in nature with aspects of natural and social science integrated within every project (how this is delivered in each project should be tailored to the individual doctoral candidate and the supervisory team. An agreement of how this will work in practice should be decided on before a project begins). In accordance with the aims of the SPF programme healthy people and a healthy environment should be placed at the centre of the research, therefore we strongly encourage individual studentships to span food production and consumption (i.e. food production/processing/manufacturing and consumption/health). Individual projects are not expected to cover all stages of the food system, however the portfolio of studentships across the CDT must be managed to ensure the whole food system is represented across all of the projects as a whole (see Purpose & Aims for food systems definition). Individual projects and supervisory teams do not need to be specified, however the Partnerships proposal must detail how they will ensure projects fit within this scope. 

The successful Partnership will demonstrate research capacity across disciplines and sectors in the food system, and strong interaction with a wide range of stakeholders. The portfolio of studentships across the CDT must also include the variety of natural (including environmental, biological, and human health) sciences and social sciences. A food systems approach might include any of the following disciplines (this is not meant to be an exhaustive list): soil science, crop and animal production, agronomy, aquaculture, biodiversity and ecosystem services, systems engineers, data science, agricultural economics, food science, food manufacturing and processing, transport, logistics, storage, waste, food markets, nutrition, biomedical and clinical science, epidemiology, economics, behavioural, social and political science, alongside the interdependencies, inequalities pressures and drivers. Proposals should also consider how the research will address UK policy and practice drivers and the track record of the Partnership in influencing policy and/or practice.

The successful CDT will be expected to work closely with the Programme Director (Prof. Guy Poppy) and UKRI SPF Food Systems team in order to maximise the impacts from the programme and move towards a shared vision beyond the specific studentship projects themselves. The CDT and associated partners will be expected to participate in wider programme network events and add impact to the overall food system SPF portfolio.

Application downloads


Launch of call

Feb 2020


6 March 2020

Proposal deadline

28 July 2020

Assessment Panel & Interviews

15th & 16th September 2020

Decision communicated to applicants

October 2020

Start of first cohort of studentships

October 2021


For any questions relating to your application please email the following address