Subjects’ gender balance not reflected in grant applications

Only two research councils have equal proportion of female applicants and academics

April 2, 2015

Source: Getty

Out of sight: women acting as co-applicants may be ‘missing out on kudos’

Some subject areas with the most equal gender balances have the lowest proportion of female academics applying for grant funding, figures suggest.

For the first time, Research Councils UK has published data looking at application and success rates for research grants and fellowships by gender for each research council over the past three years.

It also includes information from the Higher Education Statistics Agency about the proportion of the academic population in each research council’s subject areas that are male and female.

Women make up 51 per cent of the academic population working in subjects covered by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, yet only 40 to 44 per cent of all grant applications came from women between 2011-12 and 2013-14, according to the data.

It is a similar story at the Medical Research Council, where 27 to 30 per cent of grant applications came from women over the same period despite the fact that 43 per cent of academics in the disciplines covered by the council are female.

This compares with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, for example, where the Hesa data show that just 16 per cent of academics in relevant disciplines are female, but despite this, 12 to 14 per cent of grant applications came from women. The only councils to have a similar proportion of female grant applicants to that of female academics were the Economic and Social Research Council and the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

Dr Ian Lyne, associate director of programmes at the AHRC, said that the lower than expected proportion of female grant applications may be down to “a decreasing percentage of women at more senior levels in the arts and humanities” and that the situation will be kept under review.

Alison Wall, associate director at the EPSRC, said there should be some “caution” when looking at the data because of the wider variety of funding sources for academics working in MRC areas compared with those of the EPSRC. “It [is] quite a big complex picture to understand before jumping to conclusions,” she added.

An MRC spokeswoman said: “Publishing the data is the first step to improving mutual understanding of what is driving the numbers. Clearly there is more work to be done in partnership with universities.”

Jennifer Rohn, principal research associate at University College London, said that women could be acting as co-applicants to a grant application but not getting the same “kudos” as the lead academic.

RCUK said it would update the data annually and was committed to using them to “assess how effective our policies and procedures are in promoting equal opportunities”.

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