Research and Innovation are enhanced when everyone involved is treated with dignity and respect and has the opportunity to succeed. The RCUK commitment is to equality and diversity in the widest legal and good practice scope; however, we may, from time to time, focus on certain aspects of diversity. To recognise this, RCUK have an agreed set of principles which complement the RCUK action plan and Statement of Expectation.
RCUK is committed to ensuring that the best potential researchers from a diverse population are attracted into research careers. Our ambition is for RCUK to be recognised as a leader in equality and diversity in the research community, working with partners throughout the sector to drive a cultural change in equality, diversity and inclusion.
To meet this ambition, the Research Councils have together developed an action plan (launched on 4 May 2016), which represents the collective aspiration of the Research Councils and will be supported by individual Research Council plans setting out more specific targets as appropriate.
It follows RCUK’s Statement of Expectations for Equality and Diversity , published on 17 January 2013, and outlines our ambitions to lead by example in ensuring a diverse workforce; challenge bias and work towards fair and inclusive funding processes; and lead and support change in the research sector.
The third annual publication of Research Councils’ diversity data on applications is now available.
It includes an update of previously published data on grant and fellowship applications and success rates by gender, ethnicity and age to include 2015/16 data. This dataset also includes doctoral student population data and co-investigator data. It forms part of our action plan to tackle equality, diversity and inclusion issues in research. We are committed to using our diversity data to assess how effective our policies and procedures are in promoting equal opportunities and will continue to update and publish this data annually.
The Research Councils are committed to ensuring that equality and diversity are promoted in all aspects of the recruitment of postgraduate students. Our statement of expectations sets out what we expect from Research Organisations who are in receipt of our funding and these expectations extend to studentship funding.
Currently, research councils collate information on funded students’ gender, age, disability and ethnicity. We do not have information on applicant data and we do not have measures for assessing postgraduate students’ socio-economic background.
To address the latter point, which features in the RCUK Equality and Diversity Action Plan, we commissioned Professor Paul Wakeling (University of York) to explore and make recommendations on how we could conceptualise and measure socio-economic diversity.
The report highlights that it is important to recognise that socio-economic background is a complex and contested concept with substantial variation in definition and measurement. At the doctoral level there is the additional challenge that graduates’ socio-economic position is mutable in that it may change over time; also the degree of independence of graduates from their parents over time will change. There is a paucity of research into the socio-economic background of postgraduate research students. The recommendations in the report are based on a review of the practical and conceptual advantages and disadvantages of existing measures of socio-economic background in higher education and seek to balance accuracy with cost.
Our response to the findings
We welcome the findings and recommendations of the Wakeling report. In response, as a first step, RCUK will seek to work collaboratively with other sector bodies to test the feasibility of collecting data on funded students and applicants. Once the feasibility of collecting the data has been established it is proposed that a sample of data is collected and analysis framework is developed.