The Leverhulme Trust was established in 1925 under the will of the First Viscount Leverhulme, William Hesketh Lever, with the instruction that its resources should be used to support "scholarships for the purposes of research and education."
Since that time, the Trust has provided funding for research projects, fellowships, studentships, bursaries and prizes; it operates across all the academic disciplines, the intention being to support talented individuals as they realise their personal vision in research and professional training.
With annual funding of some £50 million, the Trust is amongst the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK.
The Trust places special weight on:
- the originality of the projects put to them;
- the significance of the proposed work;
- the ability to judge and take appropriate risk in the project;
- the removal of barriers between traditional disciplines.
The Victorian businessman and entrepreneur, William Hesketh Lever first brought his creativity and energy to the manufacture and marketing of Sunlight soap which was being sold in 134 countries only a decade after its launch. In order to produce the soap so cheaply, and so as to ensure he could undercut competition and be so prolific, he controlled large concessionary areas in the Congo. These were granted to him by King Leopold with whom he was a close friend. Millions of Congolese were exploited for use in forced labour in these areas, "a program that reduced the population of Congo by half and accounted for more deaths than the Nazi holocaust." (Marchal J, 2008, 'Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo', Verso Books)
Lever extended his business activities in ways that both served and profited from the rapid rise of a mass market for basic consumer products. From the earliest days, he was also a philanthropist, supporting a variety of educational, religious, civic, community and medical causes. His achievements were recognised in 1922 when the title of Lord Leverhulme of the Western Isles was conferred upon him.
On his death in 1925, Lord Leverhulme left a proportion of his interest in the company he had founded, Lever Brothers, in trust for specific beneficiaries: to include first certain trade charities and secondly the provision of "scholarships for the purposes of research and education". The Leverhulme Trust was established. In the succeeding years, Lever Brothers became a cornerstone of Unilever, a major multinational company, created in 1930 by the merger of Lever Brothers with the Van den Bergh's margarine company of the Netherlands. The Leverhulme Trust's shareholding thus became part of Unilever plc. November 1983 saw an evolution in the arrangements for the two charitable objectives. Subsequently, the Leverhulme Trust has been able to give concentrated attention to research and education.
One special element in Viscount Leverhulme's legacy is the request that the Trustees all be drawn from the highest levels within Lever Brothers or now from its descendant Unilever plc. The Trust is therefore led by a group of colleagues with wide but self-consistent experience, with a high level of mutual understanding and respect built up over many years, and with a full recognition of the special qualities and achievement of the founder. The resulting culture for decision-making is free from disciplinary special interest but fully alert to the wide-ranging impact which research and education must make in modern life.
Throughout its history, the Trust has combined the direct initiatives of the Trustees made in the light of specialist peer review advice together with a portfolio of awards made by a Research Awards Advisory Committee, itself comprising eminent research colleagues drawn predominantly from the academic world. The tradition continues to the present day.
The Trust seeks to provide mechanisms for the support of researchers and students which can be effective at all stages in their careers; and currently offers 14 different schemes:
- Research Project Grants
- Provide funds to employ research staff for up to five years on an innovative and original project of high quality and potential, the choice of theme and the design of the research lying with the applicant.
- Research Leadership Awards
- These awards are only available every five years. They support researchers who have succeeded in beginning a university career but who are then confronted with the task of building a research team adequately able to tackle an identified but distinctive research problem. Each UK institution is limited to one bid only.
- Research Programme Grants
- Provide funds to research teams for up to five years to enable them to explore significant issues based on themes that are selected by the Trust each year.
- Study Abroad Studentships
- Support up to two years of advanced study or research at a centre of learning in any overseas country, with the exception of the USA.
- Early Career Fellowships
- Provide career development opportunities, of two or three years, for those who are at a relatively early stage of their academic careers but with a proven record of research.
- Research Fellowships
- Provide support for up to two years for experienced researchers, particularly those who have been prevented by routine duties from completing a programme of original research. Awards are not limited to those holding appointments in higher education.
- Study Abroad Fellowships
- Open to those holding a full-time post in a UK institution of higher education or comparable institution and support a period overseas in a stimulating academic environment for up to one year.
- Major Research Fellowships
- Provide up to three years of full-time teaching replacement so that the applicant can concentrate on a piece of research, typically bringing it forward to publication as a monograph.
- Emeritus Fellowships
- Provide support for up to two years of research to be conducted by the applicant following retirement from an academic post.
- International Networks
- Enable a Principal Investigator based in the UK to lead a research project, of up to three years, where its successful completion is dependant on the participation of relevant overseas institutions.
- Visiting Professorships
- Enable distinguished academics based overseas to spend up to ten months at a UK university, primarily in order to enhance the skills of academic staff or the student body within the host institution.
- Philip Leverhulme Prizes
- Awarded to outstanding scholars who have made a substantial and recognised contribution to their particular field of study, are recognised at an international level, and where the expectation is that their greatest achievements are yet to come.
- Arts Bursaries
- Provide funds for up to three years to enable institutions to offer Training Bursaries – for training in the fine and performing arts; Mentorship Bursaries – for postgraduate students to develop their teaching and administrative skills; and Collaborative Arts Bursaries – facilitating original artistic collaborations between two or more arts training institutions.
- Arts Initiatives
- Provide support for up to three years for Innovative Teaching Activity Awards – supporting the artistic development of the students concerned; and Arts and Technology Awards – supporting projects which promote the creative use of technology within any area of the arts.
- Artists in Residence
- Support the residency of an artist of any kind or nationality in a UK institution in order to foster a creative collaboration between the artist and members of that institution, where creative art is not part of the normal curriculum or activity.
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