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Why are ethnic minority academics still awarded less UK research funding?

Why are White researchers nearly 59% more likely to receive funding for their research than ethnic minority researchers? This is what revealed a summary of data about seven UK research councils. The analysis demonstrated that the average research grant awarded to white researchers is more than £100,000 bigger than the average grant awarded to those from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The study covers from 2014 to 2019, due to data availability, and was collated by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the governmental organisation that oversees many research funding councils in the UK.

It discloses that the average research grant given to a white researcher is about £670,000, while the average for an ethnic minority academic is £564,000, corresponding to a successful white proposal of 27% of the time averagely, compared to only a successful 17% for BAME principals.

Image credit University Business

UKRI specifically carried out the study gathering data in response to a request from the MP Norman Lamb who was the Member of Parliament for North Norfolk from 2001 to 2019 and chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee from 2017 to 2019, and now Former Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom. The request also followed pressure from campaign group The Inclusion Group for Equity in Research in STEMM (TIGERS).

Tanvir Hussain, at the University of Nottingham and a member of TIGERS, says that the summary doesn’t go into enough detail as it is too “superficial”. 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, highlighting a need for more in-depth research.

Yet, a UKRI spokesperson declared that the body is exploring how it can provide more detailed data in the future. Nonetheless, UKRI embraced the Science and Technology Committee’s plans to hold an inquiry into the impact of science funding policy on equality, diversity, inclusion and accessibility.

Image credit LeicestershireLive

Also Izzy Jayasinghe, a lecturer in cardiovascular sciences at the University of Leeds, opened up about the study, claiming that she isn’t surprised by the findings and that they reflect her experiences as a tenured academic. Indeed, before she was awarded a UKRI leadership fellowship this year, she had nine consecutive fellowship applications and grant proposals rejected.

Hussain added that he would love to see the grant application processes repaired and renovated, without any more bias. In particular, he points out to the need of having more ethnic minority researchers on the selection panels in the UK.

For this to happen, the selection panels mustn't be able to see a researcher’s record until after they have evaluated the merit of that researcher’s proposal, to help eliminate conscious and unconscious prejudices.


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