New fund to improve postgraduate research participation and access

Diverse research scientist in a laboratory

Research England and the Office for Students (OfS) have today launched a funding competition to improve access to and participation in postgraduate research study (PGR) for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students.

Barriers and equality gaps

These students are underrepresented in postgraduate research study – and new data published today by the OfS shows there has been little change in recent years.

Participation by Black, Asian and minority ethnic students in PGR study at high-tariff universities (see OfS website: Key performance measure 2) and colleges (where most PGR study takes place) remains low. Data shows 17.1% of PGR students in 2017-18 were from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, which is a rise of just 1.4% compared to participation levels in 2010-11.

Evidence suggests that a number of barriers and equality gaps at undergraduate level continue to negatively impact Black, Asian and minority ethnic students’ progression to PGR study.

For example, OfS data shows a difference of 22.1% between the proportion of white and Black students getting a 1st or 2:1 in 2017-18, while only 4.7% of PGR students entering in the same year were Black.

Research England and the OfS are investing £6 million and £2 million respectively in projects to improve access and participation for these groups at all stages of the PGR student lifecycle.

Improving access and participation

Successful projects will look to address these issues through, for example:

  • improving access for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students applying for and entering into PGR study
  • enhancing the PGR student experience for these groups
  • diversifying routes into careers in research and teaching.

Bids will need to meet one or more of the following priorities:

  • stimulating innovation and/or distributing examples of effective practice or other insights, which can be used to shape future policy to improve access and participation
  • tackling demonstrable barriers for PGR students from Black, Asian and/or minority ethnic groups.
  • collaborating strategically to embed equality, diversity and inclusion for these student groups across the sector.

Proposals will also be assessed on the extent to which they engage Black, Asian and minority ethnic students in the design, development and delivery of the projects.

In the development of this work, the OfS and Research England have engaged with those with lived experiences relevant to the funding call, including PGR students and people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

The outcomes of a workshop held last year directly influenced the development of the funding call.

In the near future Research England and the OfS will make further announcements concerning the appointment of a chair and launch an open call for an independent assessment panel.

The challenge ahead

The call builds on work undertaken by both UK Research and Innovation and the OfS to identify levels of underrepresentation across different student groups, and to understand the factors that cause this.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:

I passionately believe in driving forward diversity across the UK’s research industry, ensuring that our most talented researchers, regardless of their background or ethnicity, have the same opportunity, access and resources to develop their ideas.

By helping to widen participation for Black, Asian and minority ethnic researchers in postgraduate study, today’s funding call will be vital in unlocking the potential of our best and brightest across all parts of society. I cannot wait to see the creative proposals put forward.

Research England Director of Research, Steven Hill said:

We hope that the projects funded through this call will help reduce inequality for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students by exploring ways to overcome barriers to access and participation in postgraduate research study.

We will welcome applications which outline ambitious proposals for change, and encourage institutions to support individual projects to ensure that the changes they introduce are long lasting.

Further information

webinar to discuss the context and details of the funding call takes place on 26 November.

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