White researchers are nearly 59 per cent more likely to receive funding for their research than ethnic minority researchers, according to a summary of data about seven UK research councils. The summary also reveals that the average research grant awarded to white researchers is more than a £100,000 bigger than the average grant awarded to those from ethnic minority backgrounds.
The summary covers 2014 to 2019 and was collated by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the governmental organisation that oversees a number of research funding councils in the UK.
It reveals that white principal investigators (those who lead their labs) are successful in their grant proposals 27 per cent of the time on average, whereas ethnic minority principal investigators are only successful 17 per cent of the time. The average research grant given to a white researcher was £670,000, whereas the average for an ethnic minority researcher was £564,000.
UKRI collated this data in response to a request from the MP Norman Lamb, then chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. The request followed pressure from campaign group The Inclusion Group for Equity in Research in STEMM (TIGERS).
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Tanvir Hussain, at the University of Nottingham and a member of TIGERS, says that the summary doesn’t go into enough detail. By lumping the research councils together, he says, it isn’t possible to tell which are doing better or worse than the others. The summary also doesn’t look at the success rates of different ethnicities.
Izzy Jayasinghe, a lecturer in cardiovascular sciences at the University of Leeds, UK, says she isn’t surprised by the findings, and that they reflect her experiences as a tenured academic. Before she was awarded a UKRI leadership fellowship this year, she had nine consecutive fellowship applications and grant proposals rejected.
Hussain says he would like to see grant application processes overhauled. In particular, he suggests selection panels shouldn’t be able to see a researcher’s past record until after they have evaluated the merit of that researcher’s proposal, to help eliminate conscious and unconscious bias. He also says there needs to be more ethnic minority researchers on selection panels.
A UKRI spokesperson told New Scientist that the body will publish diversity analyses for each research council after December’s general election. The body is also exploring how it can provide even more detailed data in the future
UKRI welcomed the Science and Technology Committee’s plans to hold an inquiry into the impact of science funding policy on equality, diversity, inclusion and accessibility.
However, the committee has now been dissolved until after the election, and will comprise a different set of MPs when it is reconvened.
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