Ethnic minority academics less likely to win UK research grants

But data from UKRI show that fellowship success rates for women and BAME researchers are now higher than men and white academics 

June 30, 2020
Weigh up

Grant success rates for women and black and minority ethnic researchers have remained stubbornly lower than their male and white counterparts, new data on diversity from the UK’s main public research funder have shown.

According to the UK Research and Innovation data, which for the first time harmonise figures across research councils, white principal investigators had a success rate that was 10 percentage points higher (27 per cent) than BAME colleagues (17 per cent) in 2018-19, a gap that has actually grown 6 percentage points since 2015-16.

A gap in grant success rates also remains for project co-investigators, with white researchers having a success rate (27 per cent) 5 percentage points higher than BAME academics (22 per cent).

Success rate gaps by gender were smaller – 2 percentage points for principal investigators and 1 percentage point for co-investigators in 2018-19 – but a gap remained over each of the past four years.

It meant that the proportion of grant winners who were women or BAME researchers still tended to be lower than for the share of applicants, even where that proportion of applicants has been rising in recent years.

For instance, although BAME researchers did make up 22 per cent of all co-investigators applying for grants in 2018-19, a rise of 10 percentage points since 2014-15, they still only made up 19 per cent of awardees.

Despite the continuing gender and ethnicity gaps in grant awards, fellowships have seen a different pattern in the past four years with success rates now higher for women and BAME academics.

More than a fifth (21 per cent) of BAME applicants won a fellowship in the last academic year, a rise of 5 percentage points from a low of 16 per cent three years before, and 3 percentage points higher than white applicants.

Women meanwhile had a success rate in fellowships that was 8 percentage points higher than men, a difference that has consistently grown from parity in 2014-15.

However, the median value of fellowships was much higher last year for men (£537,000) compared with women (£395,000), something that could be skewed by individual research council data. For instance, the median fellowship for 25 male Medical Research Council awardees was £680,000 last year, compared with £285,000 among 30 female awardees.     

For grants, the median award value for female principal investigators was also lower in 2018-19 by about 15 per cent (£336,000 compared with £395,000 for men) and there was an 8 per cent gap in the median award value for ethnic minority PIs compared with white colleagues (£353,000 compared with £383,000).

Elsewhere, there were also data on the diversity of PhD students who received studentship funding from UKRI councils. This showed that about 40 per cent of those receiving studentships in the past five years were women, lower than official estimates of the UK female PhD student population (49 per cent).

The share of studentship awardees declaring a disability (7 per cent) was also lower than the 9 per cent of the postgraduate research student population who declared this in Higher Education Statistics Agency figures.

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Reader's comments (2)

While data is useful evidence the mere fact that minorities are a very small percentage of faculty and very few become professors then obviously the proportion of research grants going to them will always be very small. Who wants to change that? Nobody
The comment above hits the nail on the head. It is funny how people get brushed asides when it comes to promotions. The obvious one is where A and B conclusively meet well defined criteria but A gets promoted while B dosent. There is probbaly less of that nowadays. The less obvious one is where it is unclear whether A and B meet vaugely defined criteria, but A gets promoted while B dosent. While it may be obvious to B and everyone that A too hasnt met the criteria, using that as an argument seems weak and uncollegial and so B can be easily coerced into accepting that they havent met the criteria, so rightly they did not deserve the promotion. Here the criteria are kept deliberalely vague or the criteria may have number of components with the relative importance of those components kept deliberately vague, so they can be weighted differently for A and B. But who cares about the little details...