Underwhelming UKRI analysis masks major issues related to equality, diversity and inclusion within the UK research sector
[10:00 GMT - 05/11/2019]
A letter from UKRI to the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology reveals a shocking disparity in the success rates of female, disabled and ethnic minority applicants for research funding compared to their white, male, non-disabled, counterparts. However, the published data, fail to provide sufficient detail or disaggregation to enable the development and implementation of evidence-based interventions needed to reform our research funding ecosystem. This falls short of what was requested by the Committee and as a consequence we are requesting the provision of detailed datasets from across the research councils. This will ensure UKRI research has wider societal impact and is better reflective of UK taxpayers, who essentially fund UKRI research.
Norman Lamb MP, Chair of the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology wrote to Sir Mark Walport, head of UKRI, on 9th September 2019 to request a detailed and substantive response on the distribution of UK funding for scientific research to individuals with protected characteristics. The aim was to provide evidence to support the start of an inquiry into the impact of funding policy on equality and diversity in science, based on a #MyScienceInquiry proposal led by Prof Rachel Oliver and other members of The Inclusion Group for Equity in Research in STEMM (TIGERS). Sir Mark responded on 30th October 2019.
TIGERS welcome UKRI’s initial engagement with the questions posed by the Select Committee. However, a key aspect of the original request was for data disaggregation of separate themes within the different research councils in order to enable unbiased and comprehensive scrutiny. However, the UKRI response does not even disaggregate between the different research councils, thereby preventing independent analysis. Moreover, the available data do not even focus on STEMM. A multitude of issues may be hidden within the aggregated data, given the substantial differences between the different UKRI research communities. We call for greater transparency from UKRI. Finally, UKRI have also failed to compare their data to HESA’s analysis of the demographics of UK academic staff, so we cannot evaluate populations to establish who are members of underrepresented groups.
UKRI are certainly aware of the problems posed by the lack of disaggregation in the reporting of their data. They state “There is considerable variation amongst the 7 Research Councils in proportion of applicants, awards, success rates and award amounts.” They note that individual councils will report in November, but it is unclear why this data was not included in the report to the Commons Select Committee Chair, or whether their later report will address the questions posed by the Select Committee, such as variation in the success rate of applicants from minority groups with grant size.
Although the UKRI response is deeply lacking in terms of a full and granular analysis, it does reveal a number of striking trends. Success rates for women who apply for grants are consistently and statistically significantly lower than the success rates for men. Women also consistently receive smaller grants on average than men. Furthermore, there are even greater differences in success rates between white principal investigators and those from minority ethnic backgrounds. Whilst white applicants achieve a success rate in applying for grant funding of 27%, this rate is only 17% for those from ethnic minorities. The average amount of those grants which ethnic minority applicants do receive is almost 20% lower than those received by white investigators. The UKRI has made no effort to produce an intersectional analysis, to address the compound challenges faced by women from ethnic minority backgrounds, which one must assume will be considerable.
The UKRI response offers little justice to those who are concerned about the fairness of our funding processes, with very few concrete plans in place to address these disparities. With a snap general election being called, the Commons Select Committee will not be able to continue the business it had planned for this parliament, including progressing this inquiry. It is imperative that when the Committee is reconvened for the next parliament, this inquiry is immediately reintroduced to the agenda, to address the significant issues which even UKRI’s limited analysis reveals.
We urge UKRI to publish data with the granularity and detail requested by the STC and to commit to greater transparency in future concerning data on these topics. This will allow the scientific community to analyse the data in detail, a necessary step to finding evidence-based solutions. TIGERS will, in the meantime, continue to lobby UKRI to make real and lasting change to their policies and processes in order to achieve improved equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility in STEMM.
TIGERS are ready and waiting to engage with the process alongside UKRI and the future CommonsSTC.
Members of TIGERS say:
- “Although these data lack the granularity required for in depth analysis, UKRI have addressed questions here which have been absent in their previous reporting, such as the differences in the sizes of grants awarded to men and women, or to white people and those from ethnic minorities. Some of the trends revealed are shocking, particularly the low rate of funding to ethnic minority applicants. I urge UKRI to take action on these issues to try to restore the faith of the UK research community in the fairness of their grant award processes.” - Professor Rachel Oliver, University of Cambridge
- “I am not surprised at the gaps between diversity within the population of UK academics and the funding awards, I am concerned about how this reflects how we engage in applying our collective know-how to solve societal challenges. We cannot understand the extent of (potential) under representation of LGBTQ+ individuals as the data has not been collected.” - Dr Ben Britton, Imperial College London
- “The quality of the data / figures released by UKRI was very disappointing, and serves only to obfuscate the significant biases against marginal groups in obtaining UK research funding. Much more transparency needs to be shown by UKRI if it is to fully engage with the UK science community to address these serious structural issues.” - Professor Anson Mackay, UCL
- “I am pleased that UKRI responded to the questions raised by the #MyScienceInquiry, albeit aggregated data from seven research councils mask the severity of the problem for the large disparity in success rates for ethnic minority applicants. We can now confidently say that the difference between BAME and white applicants exist and it is not the result of chance variation. The statistical tests shows the lower success rate (10% lower) in the aggregated data is a harsh reality irrespective of assumptions about the missing data. It took us over 2 years to come to this point for research councils to recognise there is a major issue in the UK funding landscape for BAME academics. Progress has been glacially slow in terms of developing an action plan on what needs to be done to improve the situation. We also need to recognize that BAME is not a homogenous group, and we suspect there will be significant differences in success rate between sub-groups. We all need to acknowledge that the significantly lower success rate for BAME academics has a major impact from being recruited as a PhD researcher to promotion to full professor. We must act now to establish equity in success rate and include BAME academics in the UK STEMM landscape.” - Dr Tanvir Hussain, University of Nottingham
- “It is extremely encouraging that the UKRI have responded to the questions posed by the #MyScienceInquiry and are engaging with improving accessibility in STEM funding. To date, statistics on representation of disabled researchers in STEM has been lacking and I am delighted to see that UKRI have collected data for this protected characteristic. However, the data clearly shows that there is a drastic difference between disabled and non-disabled researchers and action must be taken to address this. While 4% of academics identify as disabled (HESA 2016/17), only 1% of applications to UKRI are from disabled researchers. The success rate for for disabled researchers is 4% lower than non-disabled researchers and they consistently are awarded less funding (less than half compared to non-disabled researchers in 2018/19). This is particularly concerning and I hope that UKRI engage with this stakeholder group to address this issue.” - Dr Jessica Boland, University of Manchester
- "The sole positive from this report is that UKRI has recognised that it doesn’t collect enough data to allow it to do robust analysis of whether there are inequalities within the funding landscape (spoiler alert: there are!). This is a tacit acknowledgement that some protected characteristics were deemed historically less important than others. After this it’s unfortunately downhill, there are 3 all council EDI policies, two of which relate solely to gender (and don’t appear to be working) and the 3rd is about parental/carers leave. There is apparent confusion between biological sex and gender within the document and the constant aggregation of data (all ethnic groups and all research councils grouped together) leads to ambiguity and opaqueness. There is hope that further reports will have more granularity but I am surprised that this was produced, as is, for a research community that asks questions of information as a career choice. " - Dr Michael Sulu, UCL
- “The aggregation of data presented by UKRI indicates a troubling lack of thought given to even basic intersectional issues such as the compounded issues faced by women from ethnic minorities. I hope that a future submission of more detailed data will give more consideration to the importance of granularity and the insights that will be necessary to affect real change.” - Dr Andrew Princep, University of Oxford
- "We urge UKRI to publish data with the granularity and detail requested by the STC and to commit to greater transparency in future concerning data on these topics. This will allow the scientific community to analyse the data in detail, a necessary step to finding evidence-based solutions" - Prof Vanessa Diaz, UCL
[Edit - a text scan of the letter has been kindly provided by @Divya_M_P here]
— Editors notes:
The Inclusion Group for Equity in Research in STEMM (TIGERS) are a voluntary group of staff and students employed in the UK in science, technology, engineering, medicine and maths. You can find out more of our work via our website: www.tigerinstemm.org; on twitter as @tigerinstemm; or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
We are working together to improve equality, diversity, inclusion and accessibility in STEMM and view the #MyScienceInquiry as a piece in the jigsaw of addressing these issues within the UK funding landscape.