The Open University and Birmingham University will apply for the role before the deadline on 27 March. The University of Bristol, the University of Warwick and the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, based at Oxford University's Said Business School, are also understood to be preparing bids. Cass Business School has decided not to bid for the hub.
The centre, which will be funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the Office of the Third Sector and the Barrow Cadbury Trust, will aim to provide analysis, develop partnerships between researchers and research users and strengthen the use of evidence to underpin policy.
Higher education institutions and independent research organisations eligible to receive ESRC funding can apply for the £9m grant to run the hub. However, only ESRC-recognised faculties are eligible to bid to lead one of the three capacity-building 'clusters', which will each receive £1m (Third Sector, 27 February).
Voluntary sector umbrella body the NCVO, which is unable to bid to run the centre, wants to help develop the research programme.
"We want to make sure the centre builds on the research programme we have established over the past 10 years," said Karl Wilding, head of research at the NCVO.