Thirteen new projects will attempt to tackle persistent inequalities that create barriers for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students to access and take part in postgraduate research (PGR).

The projects, worth nearly £8 million, are innovative in scope, scale and focus to an extent that has not been seen in England before.

Delivered over the next four years, they will improve access into research, enhance research culture and the experience for Black, Asian and minority ethnic PGR students, and diversify and enhance routes into a range of careers.

The investment, by Research England – part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) – and the Office for Students (OfS), is well spread geographically, across English higher education providers and their partners.

The projects range from targeting recruitment, admissions and transition to increasing the number of Black, Asian and minority ethnic female professors, and generating new admissions practices to creating longitudinal, systemic, and structural change at various English universities.

Panel co-Chairs, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and Maisha Islam, said: “Over the course of 2020-21, the longstanding urgency for racial equality was incredibly obvious. We are confident that this competition will be a significant step of tangible action, investment and commitment to support these aims in the context of English Higher Education.

“The 13 projects will work collectively to support the entire PGR lifecycle using innovative methods and approaches. This includes reviewing admissions processes to tackling offer rate gaps, and plans to extend routes into doctoral study via professional doctorates and partnering with the NHS. Other projects will focus specifically on intersectional inequalities related to Black female students, and prioritise the mental health of their PGR students of colour.  

“We have sought to back projects that have demonstrated authentic engagement and partnership work with their students and staff of colour, and a commitment to continue this as part of their own ongoing evaluations.

“This is only one of many first steps, as systemic inequalities will not disappear overnight. We are acutely aware of how much further the sector needs to travel to be in a position to allow people of all backgrounds to flourish and establish the most outstanding research and innovation sector with a formidable research culture to match.”

Research England’s Director Research, Steven Hill, said: “Persistent inequalities occur throughout higher education for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students.

“Some of the inequalities that exist for Black, Asian and minority ethnic undergraduate students – such as the current gap in degree outcomes between white students and Black students of 22.1 percentage points are reflected in the underrepresentation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic students in postgraduate research (PGR) students.

“PGR students are also researchers and teachers, and play an important role in supporting the research and academic talent pipeline. Supporting access and successful participation for Black, Asian and minority ethnic PGR students through these 13 innovate projects is crucial – both to improve opportunities for current generations, and to increase the diversity of talent into academic careers, which has been identified as important to addressing attainment gaps.”

Professor Silke Machold, Dean of Research at University of Wolverhampton said: “It’s fantastic news that we have been successful together with our partners at Birmingham City University (BCU) and regional employers on the That’s Me! project bid.

“By working closely with regional stakeholders, we will look at identifying the multiple accessible pathways for students that have historically been excluded and make them accessible. We will also be co-creating resources with and for students from Black, Asian and Minoritised Ethnic groups to ensure we are doing all we can to eliminate barriers and improve access to research study across the West Midlands.”

Director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students, Chris Millward, said: “Black, Asian and minority ethnic students have high levels of participation in undergraduate education, but they are less likely to secure the top degree grades and go on to postgraduate research. 

“This then affects their representation among academic staff, particularly at senior levels. The projects will ambitiously tackle the issues causing underrepresentation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic students in postgraduate research, with the aim of stimulating innovation and developing effective practice for universities and colleges throughout the country.

“This is vital, so that postgraduate research in this country can benefit from the talents of people from all backgrounds.”