Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Widening participation in postgraduate research

Completed area of investment and support

This area is complete and will have no future activity.

The programme aims to tackle the evidenced year-on-year inequalities faced by Black, Asian and minority ethnic students in postgraduate research, by funding projects that improve access and participation.

£8 million
2021 to 2025
Funders or partners:
Research England, the Office for Students

The scope and what we're doing

The Higher Education and Research Act 2017 requires that the Office for Students (OfS) and UK Research and Innovation carry out joint working where a function will be more efficient, or will enable more effective exercise of functions.

Early discussions to identify areas of joint working, bringing benefits to the sector and students, highlighted shared interests in postgraduate research (PGR) and equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

An OfS desktop review of EDI data highlighted compelling evidence that demonstrates persistent, year-on-year inequalities for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students in PGR study. Both Research England and the OfS confirmed a desire to intervene in this disparity.

A joint workshop was held in December 2019 to analyse the barriers to access and participation in postgraduate research study for Black, Asian and minority ethnic people. This led to the funding opportunity being launched in 2020 to support the work to widen participation and improve access for Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups in PGR.

Why we're doing it

Research England and the Office for Students are channelling £8 million funding in projects to improve access and participation for Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups in postgraduate research (PGR).

The aims of the programme are to:

  • stimulate innovation, scale-up and distribute effective practice in increasing access and participation for Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups in PGR
  • ambitiously address evidenced issues of inequality across the PGR student lifecycle that create barriers for students from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups
  • collaborate strategically to embed equality, diversity and inclusion across the sector to improve access and participation for Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups in PGR

Past projects, outcomes and impact

13 projects have been funded to:

  • improve access into research
  • enhance research culture and the experience for Black, Asian and minority ethnic postgraduate research (PGR) students
  • diversify and enhance routes into a range of careers

Equity in doctoral education through partnership and innovation (EDEPI)

Lead: Nottingham Trent University


  • Liverpool John Moores University
  • Sheffield Hallam University
  • UK Council for Graduate Education
  • Grit Breakthrough Programmes
  • Nottingham University Hospital Trust
  • NHS R&D North West
  • Health Education England, North West
  • Sheffield Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Sheffield Children’s Hospital NHS Trust

Funding: £703,957

This project will improve access and participation for racialised groups to PGR, across 3 modern universities. It will target recruitment, admissions and transition as critical points of systemic inequality in doctoral education.

The project will co-develop and implement a new, work-based partnership approach to PGR recruitment and pilot this with the NHS. The project will co-produce a novel competency-based PGR admissions framework through national consultation with all major stakeholders, in partnership with the UK Council for Graduate Education, and will deliver a large-scale pilot and evaluation of the new framework. A bespoke coaching programme will be co-created for PGR, supervisors, and professional service staff.

Social transformation and advocacy through research (STAR)

University of East London

Funding: £368,424

This project will develop a career pathway that leads from school to postgraduate research and create routes into research training and careers in the community, voluntary and public sectors.

The project will build an innovative research training programme, through antiracist training in research. The training will link to 4 complementary offshoot projects, building student support links between postgraduate and undergraduate students, as well as links between university students and local schools.

The offshoot projects will also build a research training pathway for professionals working in creative industries, community projects and allied health professions and embed research skills in the community and voluntary sector.

Generation Delta: nurturing future cohorts of Black, Asian and minority ethnic female professors

Lead: The University of Leeds


  • Goldsmiths College, University of London
  • University of Reading
  • University of Plymouth
  • The University of Sheffield
  • The University of Sunderland

Funding: £797,264

This project will be led by 6 Black, Asian and minority ethnic female professors and will lay the foundations for a long-term increase in the number of Black, Asian and minority ethnic female professors in higher education institutions in England.

The project will address both institutional and individual barriers experienced by Black, Asian and minority ethnic women at different stages of the PGR life cycle, through the delivery of a programme of training and strategic advice that recognises the impact of intersecting inequalities on access and progression in academic careers.

It will build upon and create networks for Black, Asian and minority ethnic female PGR students. The project will deliver an active intervention to improve the practical experiences and outcomes for Black, Asian and minority ethnic female students through 3 key phases of the PGR lifecycle:

  • access
  • retention and progression
  • training for careers

The Shine Scholars Programme: fixing the broken pipeline

University of Surrey

Funding: £396,000

This project will provide Black British students with the resources, support and environment necessary to achieve excellence and pursue rich and rewarding careers after graduation.

The project will aim to increase numbers and the proportion of UK-domiciled Black PGR students, through an internship scheme, undergraduate mentoring and race equity training for staff.

To enhance the postgraduate research experience, fully funded PhD positions will be provided, with additional opportunities, such as summer school, mentoring, reverse mentoring, placements, teaching qualifications and career advice. The project will review support for researcher development, to build an inclusive practice in which PGR students from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds can thrive.

That’s me!: eliminating barriers to postgraduate research study in the West Midlands

Lead: University of Wolverhampton and Birmingham City University


  • Arthur Terry Learning Partnership
  • Black Country Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
  • City of Wolverhampton Council
  • University of Wolverhampton Multi Academy Trust
  • NIHR Clinical Research Network
  • Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce
  • C Brandauer and Co. Ltd
  • The Active Wellbeing Society, Birmingham
  • University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust
  • West Midlands Combined Authority
  • City of Wolverhampton College
  • Black Country Chamber of Commerce
  • Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust
  • Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

Funding: £798,667

This project will operate in the West Midlands to eliminate barriers for students from Black and minority ethnic groups and communities to successfully access postgraduate research. It will focus on 3 large key professional and practice-based subjects that cross-cut and underpin professional practice within many sectors:

  • health professions
  • education
  • business and law

The project aims to eliminate barriers to access to PGR by tackling university cultures and processes, creating an enabling regional employment environment, and facilitating outstanding supervisory and peer support, geared towards championing successful research and researcher careers.

Activity will improve access to research degrees from undergraduate, taught postgraduate and professionals wishing to return to research study. Interventions include process and culture change, an open educational resource, communities of practice and an allies hub.

Postgraduate research opportunities for the North East/Network for Equity (pro:NE)

Lead: Durham University


  • Newcastle University
  • Newcastle Psychological Therapies Clinic
  • Northumbria University
  • The University of Sunderland
  • Teesside University

Funding: £798,972

This project brings together 5 universities in the north-east of England to widen access and promote outcomes for prospective and current students and staff of colour in postgraduate research, to deliver a programme with 4 key strands.

These are:

  • mental health: a specialist clinical pathway will be developed within Newcastle Psychological Therapies clinic for students of colour, offering culturally competent and responsive services
  • mentoring: a peer mentoring service where students and staff of colour build relationships and community, and a reciprocal mentoring service pairing early career researchers with senior leaders to support mutual learning and support
  • development of services across the network, including leadership training, shadowing and networking opportunities and an annual conference
  • admissions: an innovative admissions pilot and evaluation that blinds multiple sections of the PGR application process alongside policy and practice reviews

The project has been developed by staff and students of colour to improve wellbeing outcomes and the number of people of colour accessing and thriving in postgraduate research work and study.

Developing fair selection models for historically marginalised postgraduate research students at Oxford and Cambridge

Lead: University of Cambridge and University of Oxford


  • Blueprint for All
  • CRAC Ltd (The Careers Research and Advisory Centre)

Funding: £799,470

This project will seek to disrupt persistent inequalities for postgraduate students.

Traditional admissions practices have historically focused on past experience as much as assessing potential. The project will generate new admissions practices that are equitable and reflective of wider society.

Following a critical review of existing approaches and analysis of good practice across the sector, the project will engage with key stakeholders to co-develop a range of new, fair postgraduate admissions processes and tools. These will be tailored to different disciplines and rooted in a benefits-led, rather than a deficit-led, approach to applicant selection.

The aim is to halve the current ‘offer gap’ in pilot sites by the end of 2025, with an aspiration to eliminate the gap altogether within one school generation (by 2035).

This is essential to the ambition to develop a socially just and equitable postgraduate research environment in England.

Transitions and transformations: Black researcher’s journey

Lead: University of Essex


  • Vitae (parent organisation CRAC)
  • Olivedon (Gradintelligence platform)
  • Diverse Minds
  • The Brilliant Club
  • Open Innovation Team

Funding: £365,367

This project aims to boost postgraduate research access, participation, and good outcomes for UK-domiciled Black students through a set of environment-changing interventions.

The project focuses on structured longitudinal research exposure and engagement, research training, and network-building, all concentrated around periods of transition in the academic journey (undergraduate dissertation, Masters dissertation, PhD thesis).

These interventions will be delivered through an innovative Black researcher programme that comprises sequenced activities organised and supported by a digital machine-learning platform, together with a new equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) training model and a transferrable model for evaluation.

The new EDI training model for decision-makers, professional services staff and academics will focus on opportunities and barriers in Black students’ research journey, as well as a transferrable model for the evaluation of such interventions.

The University of Sheffield Centre for Equity and Inclusion

Lead: The University of Sheffield


  • MA Education Consultancy
  • Our Mel
  • Sheffield and District African and Caribbean Community Association (SADACCA)
  • The Lit Collective Sheffield
  • African Voices Platform
  • Sheffield Anti-Racist Education (SHARE)

Funding: £390,450

This project will create longitudinal, systemic, and structural change at the university, establishing a network composed of Black, Asian, and other minority ethnic PGR students, University of Sheffield academics, and local partners working for equity and racial justice. The network will facilitate culture change at the university to improve Black, Asian and minority ethnic PGR students’ experience by:

  • enhancing BAME PGR students’ professional development and sense of community via a specialised mentoring scheme
  • increasing student and staff knowledge about racial inequality via specialised training led by experts in equity and inclusion
  • fostering knowledge exchange between academia and the broader community, by funding projects co-developed by Black, Asian and minority ethnic PGR students and community partners with expertise in social and racial justice
  • developing spaces for reflection, self-care, creativity, and the expression of alternative visions for the academy, through a community archive programme and other extra-curricular activities
  • identifying, critiquing, and challenging inequality and racism via co-produced projects involving all centre participants, including co-producing language that reflects an understanding, while also limiting the phenomena of racism and its reproduction

Bradford pathways to academia for minoritised ethnicities: Brad-ATTAIN

Lead: The University of Bradford


  • City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council
  • Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Working Academy
  • Emerald Publishing
  • Stronger Communities, Bradford for Everyone
  • Simply Customer
  • Digital Health Enterprise zone

Funding: £399,926

Working with partners across the Bradford District, this programme will develop positive action pathways to support progression to PGR study for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students, to build a vibrant, inclusive community of Black, Asian and minority ethnic researchers as leaders and influencers.

The project will create opportunities for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students by stimulating innovation and scaling up and distributing effective practice.

Progression will be facilitated by our approach to ambitiously address evidenced issues of inequality and structural barriers across the PGR student lifecycle, and through strategic collaboration internally and externally to the university to build cultural competence and embed EDI to improve access and participation for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students.

The project will deliver inclusive employment and recruitment practices fundamentally transforming organisational culture.

In2research: building a scalable PGR access and progression programme for BAME students

Lead: University College London


  • In2scienceUK
  • Students’ Union UCL
  • University of Cambridge
  • City University
  • Leading Routes (part of the Ubele initiative)

Funding: £789,943

This project will address inequalities across the postgraduate research student lifecycle and the barriers that exist for students from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups – particularly for UK-domiciled students from Black British, British Pakistani and British Bangladeshi backgrounds, who are most acutely marginalised in PGR study and academic careers.

The project will recruit over 300 student participants to engage in a 12-month mentoring and development programme, including an 8-week paid research placement with experienced academics and mentors.

The project will strengthen students’ applications to postgraduate programmes, build knowledge and skills to navigate inequalities in higher education and research, increase networking opportunities, and extend support through an alumni community.

It will also promote institutional culture change through training for staff who supervise, train or support Black, Asian and minority ethnic PGR students.

Accomplished study programme in research excellence (ASPIRE) for Black students: fixing the broken pipeline

Lead: Sheffield Hallam University


  • Manchester Metropolitan University
  • Advance HE

Funding: £337,612

This project will develop the capabilities of Black students to navigate structural barriers to doctoral study and enhance pathways of opportunity, through inclusive targeting. The 4 key aims of the project are:

  • develop an impactful, inclusive, targeted research mentorship and wellbeing programme designed specifically to meet the racialised needs of Black students interested in accessing doctoral-level study
  • evaluate the ways in which structural barriers to the access of doctoral-level study for Black students can be overcome through participation in ASPIRE
  • determine whether participation in ASPIRE leads to improved work-readiness of Black students to access doctoral-level study
  • improve the understanding of PGR supervisors of the specific, racialised needs of Black students interested in accessing doctoral study and the ways in which Black students can be best supported

Continuous improvement will lead to the development of a framework that can be adapted and adopted by other universities seeking to attract Black students into doctoral-level study.

Yorkshire Consortium for Equity in Doctoral Education (YCEDE)

Lead: University of York


  • The University of Sheffield
  • University of Leeds
  • Sheffield Hallam University
  • University of Bradford

Funding: £799,514

This project will tackle ethnic inequalities in access to postgraduate research by systems-change innovations that re-shape institutional policies and procedures. 5 Yorkshire universities will reform their admissions criteria and practices, involving work on the efficacy of taken-for-granted criteria as predictors of PGR success.

The project will take a whole pipeline approach supporting candidates to apply for PGR programmes, enhancing the on-course experience of PGRs of colour.
Bespoke mentoring and training will develop a strong community of staff and PGRs with knowledge, confidence and leadership skills, so the pipeline flows beyond university.

The project will rigorously evaluate the effectiveness of interventions and share innovation and best practice widely to enhance opportunities nationwide.

Who to contact

Governance, management and panels

An expert panel and steering group were appointed through a competitive process to help the programme to achieve its aims.

The panel will support final funding decisions and the steering group will guide and support the programme over the long term.

Panel and steering group membership

Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon: Panel and steering group co-chair

Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE is CEO and Creator of non-profit Stemettes, a trustee at the Institute for the Future of Work and host of the Evening Standard’s Women Tech Charge podcast.

A former child prodigy who passed 2 GCSEs in primary school and an A-level in Computing aged 11, she was just 20 years old when she received her Master’s Degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of Oxford.

Her work at Stemettes spans almost a decade of frontline work to inspire and support young women and young non-binary people into the STEM fields, reaching almost 50,000.

In 2017, she was awarded an MBE for her work as a renowned champion and inspiration for women looking to find a role in the world of STEM.

Maisha Islam: Student panel and steering group co-chair

Maisha Islam is the Student Engagement Research and Projects Coordinator at the University of Winchester, while also studying for a professional doctorate in education.

Maisha’s main research interests lie in the area of Black, Asian and minority ethnic student experience, and Muslim student sense of belonging and student voice in higher education, where she presents, writes and has published on these topics.

Maisha is heavily invested in the area of race equality in higher education. For example, Maisha has investigated Asian student experience in relation to degree-awarding gaps, and has sat on a Universities UK staff panel which developed guidance for universities tackling racial harassment.

Additionally, Maisha sits on the Office for Students’ Student Panel and is the co-Chair of the Research England and Office for Students BAME postgraduate (PGR) funding panel.

Dr Arun Verma: Panel and steering group member

Dr Arun Verma is a leader in integrating intersectionality in design, development and action throughout the higher education, third and public sectors.

He is Senior Manager, Diversity & Inclusion at Royal Academy of Engineering, Academic Tutor (University of Dundee) and Fellow of the RSA. He completed his doctorate exploring intersectionality in student learning, retention and success.

Arun has led the integration and embedding of intersectionality and anti-racist practice, in government commissioning, the global development programmes and academia and policy intervention.

He is a Trustee for Getting on Board, and is editing ‘Anti-racism in higher education: An action guide for change’.

Daniel Akinbosede: Panel and steering group member

Daniel Akinbosede has recently completed his PhD at the University of Sussex.
His research focused on proteins that allow Neisseria bacteria to highjack iron from human blood as a nutrient source.

He is passionate about embedding inclusive and anti-racist pedagogy in STEM teaching and research, as well as throughout the higher education sector.

Dr Kamna Patel: Panel and steering group member

Dr Kamna Patel is an Associate Professor of development studies at University College London and the former Vice Dean of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment.

She has driven innovative approaches to racial equity in higher education including 100% equity-based scholarships for underrepresented groups at undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral level, applied positive action and guaranteed interviews in academic recruitment. She also co-curated a ‘Race and Space’ curriculum for all students and staff to grow subject knowledge.

Kamna is currently seconded to the INGO Christian Aid where she is leading their agenda on racial equity and diversity.

Dr Louise Banahene MBE: Panel and steering group member

Louise Banahene is Director of Educational Engagement at the University of Leeds.

She provides leadership on the university’s access and student success strategy to ensure equality of outcomes in access, non-continuation and degree awards across all levels of study.

She has worked extensively on widening access to, and success, in postgraduate study for under-represented groups. Her involvement in sector collaborations includes her role as co-chair of the NEON Postgraduate Diversity working group.

In 2017 she was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to higher education.

Last updated: 5 January 2024

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