MPs force societies to monitor ethnicity

December 20, 2002

The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering have been forced to monitor the ethnicity of their fellows after MPs accused them of having a "head-in-the-sand attitude to the current political climate".

When questioned by the House of Commons science and technology committee earlier this year, the societies argued that election to fellowships was on the basis of excellence. Consequently neither kept data on ethnic backgrounds.

In its August report, Government Funding of the Science Learned Societies, the committee criticised the societies, arguing that according to the Commission for Racial Equality it is "against good practice not to carry out ethnic monitoring at all levels". It pointed out that since the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering receive public money, they were "laying themselves open to criticism".

In its response to the committee's recommendations this week, the Royal Society said it had agreed to collect this data by surveying its membership.

The Royal Academy of Engineering also agreed to introduce surveying of awardees and fellows from January. A spokesperson said: "When the committee brought it up, we couldn't argue. It was obvious we should do that."

The report followed a series of evidence sessions, in which the the Royal Society's £26 million and the Royal Academy of Engineering's £4 million annual government grants were examined.

Committee chair Ian Gibson, MP for Norwich North, said the committee hoped to revisit the societies to evaluate their progress with their surveys in a year's time.

The Royal Society defended itself against accusations of bias against electing computer scientists to its fellowship. It said an analysis by the British Computing Society was "flawed", that the number of fellows mirrored the profile of a "younger discipline" and that the rate of election of new fellows was more representative.

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