After much poking and prodding, the problems with our research culture have now been acknowledged by senior leaders in research and funding organisations.
At national and international level, actions to improve culture have made it into sector reports, strategies, roadmaps, government consultations, and funder delivery plans. All in all, though, a fairer and more equitable future depends not on values and intentions, but on what we are going to do tomorrow that is different from what we are doing today.
Today we have published a report – Equity and Inclusivity in Research Funding – that describes the systemic barriers to equitable access to research funding faced by researchers in marginalised groups and that are created and controlled by funders and universities, and focuses on the practical actions we can take to address the inequalities in access to research funding awarded to researchers in marginalised groups.
Need for action
A growing body of data, including from research funders, highlights inequalities in the research funding awarded to researchers in marginalised groups.
Women have broadly similar success rates to men, but receive awards of substantially lower value.
Racially minoritised applicants experience persistently lower success rates and award values than white applicants.
Success rates for disabled applicants are lower than for non-disabled applicants and the proportion of applicants who declare a disability is low.
Data in relation to LGBTQIA+ identities is typically not gathered and therefore disparities cannot be identified – however, literature provides evidence of discrimination within the sector.
Cycles of inequity
Barriers exist at many steps in the process of acquiring funding, from the inaccessibility of funder documentation and systems, disparities in the availability of information, the importance and lower availability of support (such as sponsorship), narrow assessment against “traditional” career paths and indicators, potential bias in decision-making, and increased burdens on researchers in marginalised groups.
Researchers experience these themes as cycles, both within the research funding system and more widely in the research ecosystem. Any one burden drives disadvantage at subsequent steps, leading to ever-increasing impacts on individual careers, and contributing to the lack of diversity evident at senior levels of academia.
The report highlights what actions we can take as universities or funders, and what solutions we need to work on jointly. It highlights actions that are foundational or legally required, and those more involved ones that we need to work on as a community.
We aim to motivate staff at all levels and in any relevant role at universities and research funders to read the report and to act on the recommendations — senior leaders, managers, administrators, and researchers themselves.
Things are already moving. We are heartened by the increasing focus on EDI across funders, government, and universities. Funders are already acting, as seen in the recent announcements by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the European Research Council to assess applicants based on a smaller number of indicators and to favour the potential of applicants over their track record.
Towards a better ecosystem
Following our own recommendations, we are identifying interventions in the University of Oxford based on the report’s findings and recommendations, including using data to identify where inequities are most palpable, taking steps to ensure equity in internal pre-submission selection, and embedding best practice processes and policies in internal funding schemes.
We are also convening discussions with research funders, universities, and other organisations on how we can work together to improve equity and inclusion in the research funding system. An equitable funding ecosystem is achievable, but only by agreeing on concerted actions across organisational boundaries.
To join these discussions, please contact email@example.com.
The report is funded by the University of Oxford and the Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund [204826/Z/16/Z]. The findings and recommendations are based on an analysis of a sample of UK funding schemes, and a review of international literature on equality and business practice. They were supported by sector-wide discussions with colleagues with expertise in EDI, and focus groups and interviews with individuals from the target groups at the University of Oxford.