Ethnicity and race equality in our portfolio

Underrepresentation of researchers from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds in engineering and physical sciences (EPS) and, in particular in our grant and doctoral training portfolio and our advisory and governance groups, is one of EPSRC’s major equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) challenges.

A research and innovation system which fully fosters work environments and approaches that support equality, diversity and inclusion for all helps to attract people from diverse backgrounds into research careers, at the same time building on the existing collaborative power of different skills and experiences to create new knowledge. This is vital to respond to emerging research and societal challenges to enrich lives and build prosperity.

At EPSRC, we seek to ensure that the ethnic diversity in our grant portfolio and of those who engage in our peer review, advisory and governance processes is at least representative of the engineering and physical sciences academic researcher population and that our award rates across different ethnicities show no disparity.

UKRI ethnicity data

In December 2020, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) published application and award data by disaggregated ethnic minority groupings for principal investigators, co-investigators, fellows and studentships.

EPSRC ethnicity data: investigating our portfolio through an ethnicity lens

Building on the UKRI ethnicity data release, we analysed the ethnicity data we hold on our investigators, looking closely at the applications we receive and award rates for research grants and fellowships, as well as exploring participation in our peer review processes.

Read our detailed ethnicity analysis report, which provides information on how the dataset was produced along with interpretative guidance and a summary of our findings. As well as a PDF report, there are individual spreadsheet files for each level.

Our report on peer review participation, published in October 2020, offers diversity data from academic year 2014 to 2015 and 2019 2020 in relation to the EPSRC Peer Review College.

Our ethnicity data highlights that:

  • ethnic minority researchers are underrepresented in our portfolio
  • award rates for principal investigators, co-investigators and fellowship applicants from White ethnic groups are consistently higher than those applicants from ethnic minority groups
  • researchers who identify as Chinese or Indian form the largest proportion of applicants and awardees from the Asian ethnic group for principal investigators, co-investigators and fellows
  • collectively, those identifying as Chinese and Indian form around 80% of all Asian investigator applicants and awardees. These two ethnicities are well represented as applicants and awardees when compared to their HESA engineering and physical sciences (EPS) academic population at 68.9% of the Asian ethnic group
  • the proportion of principal investigator awardees who identify as Black, Bangladeshi or Pakistani are underrepresented compared to the HESA EPS academic researcher population
  • while there has been an increase in the proportion of ethnic minority researchers participating in peer review, this is still not representative of the EPS academic population

EPSRC immediate action and commitment

After our initial data investigations, we are taking the following near-term actions.

Ensure diverse representation in our peer review processes and advisory bodies

It is important to include a range of opinions and viewpoints in our decision-making process. EPSRC selects most of its reviewers and panel members from the EPSRC Peer Review College. However, from our data we can see that ethnic minority representation within the college (15%) is lower than the EPS ethnic minority academic researcher population of 20% (HESA 2019). We are taking action to increase the representation of ethnic minority researchers in our Peer Review College to 20%.

To achieve this, we are encouraging self-nominations to the EPSRC Peer Review College from all our researchers, but particularly from ethnic minority colleagues. Applicants are assessed on their relevant experience and portfolio expertise in the normal way.

Find out how to join the EPSRC Peer Review College.

Increase ethnic minority representation on advisory bodies

We are also committed to increasing the ethnic minority representation on our strategic advisory teams and strategic advisory network. We aim to increase the membership of ethnic minority representation on these advisory bodies to 20%.

Safeguard decision-making in peer review

We continue to safeguard decision making in peer review, challenging bias and ensuring fair and inclusive funding processes, and sharing ideas on the expectation for equality, diversity and inclusion in our research and training grants.

We will evaluate the process used for our National Productivity Investment Fund Innovation Fellowships, which resulted in the most diverse cohort we have funded. It included a step for universities to inform us how they were ensuring diversity in the applications submitted.

As part of our data investigations, we continue to evolve our data capabilities and enhance our understanding by exploring the intersectionality of the ethnicity data with, for example, gender and nationality. We hope to combine our data understanding with that of universities to facilitate a broader picture.

Find out more about UKRI activities to address underrepresentation and systemic disparities.

Findings of our community engagement and actions for change

Alongside our data investigations and new commitments, we recently engaged with our community to gather insights and perspectives to better understand the factors that influence the inclusion of Black, Asian and ethnic minority researchers and doctoral students in our portfolio as well as the challenges colleagues encountered as they enter into and progress their research careers.

Our community engagement explored:

  • the barriers that doctoral students from ethnic minority backgrounds may face when accessing doctoral studies
  • the attractiveness of a transition to an academic career for people from an ethnic minority background
  • the challenges facing ethnic minority researchers as they progress their research careers
  • the experiences of ethnic minority researchers when accessing and securing research funding
  • the effectiveness of current interventions and support for ethnic minority researchers, particularly in relation to recruitment, career progression, enabling greater inclusion and addressing bias and prejudice

Our engagement consisted of 3 ‘Have your say’ surveys for academic, postdoctoral and doctoral student members of our community. This was accompanied by strategic dialogues with university senior management and with our business partners to increase our knowledge of current activities and explore how we might work in partnership. The details of these findings and the further actions we will take to address inequity in our portfolio are detailed in our report.

Ethnicity and race inequity in our portfolio: findings of our community engagement and actions for change

Respondents shared personal experiences and detailed accounts of navigating the grant funding system as well as details of discrimination and exclusion in their workplaces. Many people gave comprehensive feedback and ideas on how we can work together to achieve our vision for a research and innovation system in the UK, where everyone has the opportunity to contribute, to be themselves and to benefit.

We would like to thank everyone who took the time to participate and share the details of their experiences, all of which have enriched our understanding of what needs to change and improve. This valuable input has shaped and informed our new interventions.

We benefit from being part of a strong and active research community that is committed to addressing these issues. We all play a role and the insights gathered through these surveys and conversations are vital to inform our work.

Last updated: 28 April 2023

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