A consortium of funders, including all the research councils, the Wellcome Trust and Royal Society, is to instigate an independent survey to investigate why women do not apply for grants in the same proportion as men.
According to Jonathan Grant of the Wellcome Trust, more than three times more men than women apply for Wellcome Trust grants. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are also discrepancies in the number of female applicants in other areas.
The survey will address four new questions: how often do men and women apply for grants? Does the university career structure affect grant-applying behaviour? Do men and women share the same workloads? Do attitudes towards making applications differ between the sexes?
The consortium was set up by the Wellcome Trust as a group of biomedical research funders but has since been extended university-wide, said Lawrence Low of the Wellcome Trust. Other research councils have apparently been keen to get involved in the project.
When details of the survey are finalised, it will be put out to tender to an independent market research organisation in mid to late October, and Wellcome hopes to have preliminary results by April next year.
Mr Low explained that the trust was hoping to get other charities on board. "we would like their participation," he said.
Not all charities will be expected to contribute funding to the same level. The trust has requested a "nominal sum" of Pounds 10,000 from each research council and will be contributing to the costs of the survey.
A spokesperson for the AUT said: "many women are made to feel that the whole academic system is against them." The typical academic working week of more than 50 hours was just one barrier stopping women writing grant applications.