Unusual Collaborations Grants

Please note that application for this grant is by invitation only.

Unusual Collaborations grants are meant to take an idea or project further by enabling outside-the-box inter- and transdisciplinary research that is societally relevant and may aim to contribute to societal impact. Expressions of intent are invited on unusual research that would not easily get funded through other funding schemes. In addition to research, expressions of intent may also concern setting up a platform, Centre of Excellence, hub, etc.

An Unusual Collaborations (UCo) grant provides funding for one year with the idea that the project will extend beyond the funding period. This may be possible by applying again for CUCo funding up to three years; applicants are also strongly encouraged to consider other pathways for continuation.

Budget options/requirements

Please note that costs need to be distributed as equally as possible across the institutes that are represented in UCo teams: e.g. when three institutes participate, the division should be as close as possible to 33,3% of the project budget for each institute.

UCo grants can be used for the following types of costs:

Personnel costs

UCo grants are designed to provide early (post-PhD) and mid-career researchers with the time and space to work on unusual research. Applicants to CUCo funding are encouraged to set up projects in a non-traditional manner (NB: grants cannot be used towards hiring PhD students).

  • Salaries for mid-career academics, i.e. a part-time position (e.g. 0.2 fte)
  • Postdoc positions
  • Hiring student or research assistants for research activities or project management support
  • Remuneration of societal partners, if they are involved in the project

Please note that overhead of 25% applies to all personnel costs (except the hiring of external expertise), following a decision made by the Board of the alliance.

Project management support

  • Hiring external expertise and support: coaches, experts, communication professionals, etc.
  • Education:, including involving students, student teams or internships

Material costs

  • Buying or hiring materials or services to help perform the research (i.e. equipment, data, transcription);
  • Field trips and travel/accommodation costs
  • Outreach: organising events or workshops for public engagement, and communication, e.g. videos, policy briefs, infographics
  • FAIR data management plans, open access publications
  • Involvement of process coaches in the project budget is strongly suggested (at max €920, incl VAT per day). Please find more information on the process coaches here.

Involvement of societal partners

UCo projects may be directed primarily towards scientific improvements that could contribute to societal impact beyond the project duration, or aim to contribute to societal changes more directly. CUCo believes that involvement of societal partners in the research team can be of added value when aiming for a societal contribution. Appreciating and engaging different types of knowledge (e.g. of practitioners, policy representatives, activist groups, artists) is welcomed. In case the team wishes to involve societal partners, the following starting points are provided to avoid extraction of knowledge:

  • Involvement of societal partners is not a requirement;
  • Please consider involvement of societal partners only when this is meaningful to all parties;
  • If societal partners are involved, their involvement is ensured from the onset of idea development all throughout the research process;
  • Matching of funding by societal partners is not a requirement;
  • Time spent by societal partners on the project is compensated.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

CUCo strives to achieve and contribute to an inclusive academic culture in which there is no place for conscious or unconscious barriers. CUCo encourages and trusts applicants to take additional effort to increase the diversity within research teams, as well as to consider how equity, diversity and inclusion can be adequately included in the research setup, including in the formulation of research questions and methodologies. Teams are strongly encouraged to engage with EDI officers across the alliance institutes when developing research plans. If the team is having trouble with increasing diversity, please contact CUCo for support.

Budget available

A total budget of €0,9M is available for this funding round. Requested budgets may vary between €50,000 – €140,000. Our aim is to fund as many projects as possible out of the available budget, we strongly encourage applicants to limit the funds that are requested to the activities that are required to achieve the objectives. Very much in the spirit of building a CUCo community!


Funded projects may last a maximum of 12 months, due to alliance institute financial cycles.

Eligibility criteria

  • The expression of intent was preceded by the completion of a Spark grant, or the first or second year of a UCo grant; teams can receive UCo funding for a maximum of three years.
  • The core team must include researchers from at least three institutes of the alliance (TU Eindhoven, Wageningen University & Research, Utrecht University, UMC Utrecht).
  • The main applicant and the majority of the team members are based at one of the alliance institutes and are in the mid-career stage: they hold assistant or associate professor positions.
  • The expression of intent fits the UCo funding scheme.  The following are the expectations of UCo projects, based on CUCo’s ‘unusual trinity’ of ‘team’, ‘topic’ and ‘process’:
    • The team composition is unexpected, i.e., team members cover commonly unrelated disciplines/types of expertise, novelty of combination of disciplines/types of expertise. Please note that CUCo encourages interaction between the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences – and everything that falls in between these.
    • The process for research and learning is conducive to inter- and transdisciplinary research (clear problem description, iterative research design, reflection is strongly anchored, research approach and methodology bring together disciplines and/or types of expertise in unusual and truly integrated ways).
    • Unusual research topic (distinct from existing initiatives, innovative research questions and objectives, would not easily be funded elsewhere). 

Selection procedure

This call is open to Spark and UCo teams (see eligibility criteria): all expressions of intent are treated equally.

Selection of expressions of intent is done through a lottery. Please find here the arguments for CUCo to choose for a lottery. All teams that pass the eligibility check (see criteria above) will enter the lottery. The CUCo Board draws projects until the funding maximum is reached. The lottery will be overseen by an independent authority to ensure fairness and transparency.

Timeline of the procedure

  • 10 June 2024: call opens
  • 5 November: deadline for expressions of intent. Submit overview of team + summary of ideas  + budget
  • 19 November: eligibility decision
  • 26 November: funding decision, based on lottery
  • 1 January 2025: ultimate starting date for funded projects

Projects that are not funded

Teams whose expressions of intent are rejected in the eligibility phase or not drawn in the lottery are encouraged to submit a revised project in the procedure of the following year, or consult Research Support Offices for other funding options.


UCo grant recipients commit to the following expectations and will be supported by CUCo in the following manners:

  • Project teams will meet with the CUCo team and Board members during check-ins at the start and midterm of the grant duration, and at the end stage if the project does not proceed with CUCo funding after its current duration.
  • All teams will appoint one team member to be the representative in the UCo ‘25 cross-project learning group that will meet two or three times throughout the year.
  • Throughout project duration the teams will meet with process coaches that will support the collaborative process and facilitate integration of knowledge.
  • All Spark and UCo teams will gather during the CUCo Community day to share lessons about progress, so as to support cross-project fertilisation. This meeting will be held on 19 June 2025 and is organised by CUCo.
  • Teams are expected to give regular updates via their project page on the CUCo website and CUCo’s LinkedIn. These updates are also an opportunity to receive feedback, or ask for input.
  • Teams will report on their learnings and findings in a self-chosen format (e.g. through blogs, visualisations, videos, podcasts, etc) at the end of the funding duration.
  • Financial reporting is required in the provided format at the end of the grant duration.
  • Teams are encouraged to approach CUCo about roadblocks, complications, and other issues hindering their process.

Discontinuing a project that ends up not being feasible is okay, as this will provide a budget for others to start up new projects.