UKRI publishes ethnicity analysis of funding applicants and awardees

Urban crowd from above

Detailed ethnicity data for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funding applicants and awardees, published for the first time, highlights disparities between different ethnic groups.

The data analyses published today form part of ongoing work at UKRI to increase equality diversity and inclusion in the research and innovation system through effective, evidenced interventions.

The publication of the data is an important part of our commitment to identify and address issues within the funding system and alongside the report we have published an updated policy statement on our actions.

Driving transformative change

UKRI Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said:

These data spotlight the stark reality of the persistent systemic racial inequalities experienced in the research and innovation system. They are profoundly upsetting, but perhaps the most upsetting thing about them is that they are not surprising.

The publication of these data and their analysis is part of our ongoing work to drive transformative change both at UKRI and more widely across the system. Open data are an essential tool for identifying and understanding where and how we can most effectively target interventions, and for monitoring whether our interventions are effective.

We need a research and innovation system in which everyone can participate and from which everyone benefits. I am deeply grateful to those in our communities who are working so hard, often at considerable personal cost, to make that a reality. UKRI must redouble  our efforts, in partnership with all the communities we serve, to create the culture change that will address the underrepresentation and barriers highlighted by this report.

Detailed data findings

UKRI has previously published award data for ethnic minority awardees as an aggregate category. Today, for the first time, we are presenting results by more detailed ethnicity categories to better understand variations.

Results are presented both by ethnicities (such as Asian-Bangladeshi, Black-African, Mixed-Other) and ethnic groups (Asian, Black, Mixed).

The data, aggregated for UKRI’s seven research councils over the past five years, shows:

  • over the past five years, the proportion of ethnic minority co-investigators (CI) has increased by nine percentage points, principle investigators (PI) by one pp, and fellows by six pp
  • the proportion of fellowship awardees from ethnic minorities has increased from 12% in 2014-15 to 18% in 2018-19. In 2018-19, 60 fellows were from ethnic minority backgrounds, compared to 250 white fellows. Less than 1% of fellows are from the Black ethnic group
  • the Asian ethnic group are the largest proportion (often two-thirds or more) of applicants and awardees from ethnic minority groups for all application roles and studentship starts, followed by applicants and awardees from Mixed and Black ethnic groups
  • the proportion of PIs from ethnic minority groups (Asian, Black and Mixed) is below their respective academic market share – this refers to the share by ethnicity of those in ‘both research and teaching contracts’ (Source: HESA). Black PIs account for less than 1% of PIs, which is below the HESA estimate of academic as well as the labour market share
  • we do not have ethnicity information for almost 30% of UKRI funded studentship starts. Ethnic minorities form 13% of studentship starts who disclosed their ethnicity. Students from Asian ethnic groups are the largest group within ethnic minorities, followed by those from the Mixed and Black ethnic groups.

While the data describes the patterns of funding applications and awards amongst ethnicities, it cannot be used to explain variations. We continue to conduct research to understand the complex range of factors driving these trends across the research and innovation system.

UKRI will continue to develop its data capabilities to understand whom we fund, identifying and addressing gaps in knowledge and taking action to address systemic under-representation.

Current and ongoing action on this issue

UKRI has developed and implemented a number of actions which are informed by past work and evidence. A continuous programme of interventions, at all career stages and across our decision-making processes, will be required to fully address these systemic disparities.

Our updated policy statement provides an overview of our work. Current actions include:

  • continuously reviewing our expert review and assessment practices. Embedding effective practice with respect to EDI is a central element in this work
  • we are piloting anonymised assessment processes, for example in the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) New Horizons call
  • we are introducing a standardised narrative CV format for our grant applications. This approach allows applicants to evidence their contributions in a wider range of ways, supporting and valuing diverse contributions and career paths
  • Research England and the Office for Students (OfS) have launched a new £8 million funding competition to improve access to and participation in postgraduate research study for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students
  • as part of training grant proposals, EPSRC and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council require EDI strategies that address widening participation and this forms part of assessment criteria
  • we are working to pilot changes in our engagement approaches and are developing plans for Race Equality Engagement Summits, to be held across the UK in partnership with regional hosts to encourage innovative and creative conversations about addressing racial inequality. We will work in partnership with regional hosts to deliver these summits across the UK, to deliberate and co-create commitments and actions for change and will be announcing more as plans firm up
  • we have worked in partnership with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic researchers in the scoping and design of recent funding opportunities to research the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 in Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic communities
  • to improve diversity and culture within UKRI we are working with specialist recruitment agencies to increase diversity in our own recruitment pipelines, ensuring that we bring diverse voices into our own governance and accountability structures.

We are working to revise our equality, diversity and inclusion strategy, adapting this to respond to the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19. Our plan will include actions for us as an organisation and discipline-specific initiatives.

Continued process of change

UKRI Deputy Director R&D Culture and Environment Karen Salt said:

We are reporting these data as part of a continued process of change that we know begins with us, but also draws in the entire sector.

Anyone who has been to a research and innovation event or has spent time in any research and innovation organisation will recognise that our data signals deep structural issues with how the sector recruits, retains and promotes Black, Asian and minority ethnic researchers and innovators.

UKRI must do its part and reflect on our policies and processes and engage in meaningful action and we must work with the entire system to take up this challenge.  We want to work with every organisation, institution and stakeholder to report data, reflect on it and use it to drive change.

And most importantly, we must, all of us, listen to the challenges from those with direct experience in our sector. There are human stories here of creativity, disappointment, disparity and, worryingly, inequality.

Working together, we have the opportunity to create the conditions in which all can flourish and contribute to our collective knowledge economy. Anything less than that should not be acceptable.

The published analysis

In this publication, results are presented for the three application roles (PI, CI and fellow) and for studentship starts for 2014-15 to 2018-19. PI, CI and fellowship applications are assessed by expert panels and peer reviewers appointed by UKRI.

UKRI-funded studentships are selected through the admissions processes of institutions who have been awarded UKRI training grants. Results are not presented at the research council level as some numbers become small with further disaggregation of ethnic minority applicants and awardees, and are therefore suppressed to avoid making individuals identifiable.

Data are not included for Innovate UK and Research England, due to differences in both the nature of funding and data collection.

We continue to develop our data capabilities regarding our funding and staffing data.

Need more qualitative information

To fully understand some issues, we will need more qualitative information and will be working across the sector to assemble information, following data protection requirements, that captures the entire research and innovation system.

As part of our commitment to address these issues and to transparency, we will be publishing our detailed data on an annual basis.

Top image:  Urban crowd from above (credit: georgeclerk/GettyImages)

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