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Do science funding policies and cultures prevent UK science from attracting a diverse community of people? This important proposal was put to the Science and Technology Select Committee by over 200 UK scientists, including 15 from Oxford, and will be taken forward by the Government in 2019-20.

Oxford scientists in community led call for government inquiry into funding policy impact on diversity in stemm

‘We call upon the Science and Technology Select Committee to open an inquiry into the extent to which funding policies, procedures and cultures are marginalising and excluding individuals from a wide range of backgrounds, a problem that threatens the creativity and productivity of UK STEM. Evidence-based approaches to overcoming this problem must be implemented, creating a level playing field and safeguarding the future of UK STEM.’

This statement concludes the proposal put forward in late 2018 by a group of UK scientists to the Science and Technology Committee’s #MyScienceInquiry process. #MyScienceInquiry provides a regular opportunity for the public to suggest potential inquiries for the Committee’s future work programme.

Submitters were allowed only 200 words to convince the Committee that their idea was worthy of attention. Led by Professor Rachel Oliver at the University of Cambridge, the UK scientists’ proposal was that implicit biases in science funding processes are stifling equality, diversity, inclusion and accessibility in science. Lack of diversity in STEMM shrinks the available pool of talent and ideas and hence limits the excellence of UK research. Funding is hugely influential in controlling the research career pipeline, and so has a big influence on diversity in STEMM.

Out of 86 applications, ten were shortlisted to deliver a five-minute pitch to the Committee. The Oxford-supported proposal was one of only four to be successful at this stage. A film of the pitch from Professor Rachel Oliver can be viewed here. The majority of the Oxford scientists who signed the proposal to the Committee were from MPLS Division. The full statement can be read here and the list of Oxford signatories is below.

The Science and Technology Committee released their report on #MyScienceEnquiry on 27 February. They plan to launch an inquiry based on the proposal within the next 12 months. The initial stage will gather data on how funding is currently allocated to identify any biases in funding processes. A Committee inquiry could then explore the extent to which funding, policies, procedures and cultures were affecting diversity in science, and establish why certain funding streams tended to improve or limit diversity.

Professor Rachel Oliver, who led the proposal, said: “I'm delighted that this #MyScienceInquiry proposal was chosen by the select committee. The pitch I made to the committee was developed by a team of scientists from across the UK, working together to improve equality, diversity, inclusion and accessibility across STEMM in the UK.  The success of our pitch just shows how powerful diverse teams can be.”

Professor Angus Wilkinson from the Department of Materials, one of the signatories, said: “This issue is hugely important, is pervasive across STEM, and has been present for too long.  We must seek change.  We’re really excited to see that Government believe this is important and are taking it seriously. This is a great opportunity to improve diversity of the STEMM community for the benefit of us all.”  

Oxford signatories

Dr David Armstrong, Associate Professor of Materials, Department of Materials, University of Oxford

Dr Paul Bagot, Atom Probe Scientist and St. Catherine’s College Lecturer, Department of Materials, University of Oxford

Dr Clara Barker, Manager of CfAS at Oxford Materials (and VC of the LGBT+ Advisory Group to) Oxford University

Dr Kathryn Boast, Quantum Materials Outreach Officer, Department of Physics, University of Oxford; STEM Outreach Officer, Hertford College, University of Oxford.

Dr Ewen D. D. Calder, Postdoctoral Research Associate in Chemistry, University of Oxford

Dr Priyanka Dhopade, Senior Research Associate, Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford

Prof Pete Nellist, Professor of Materials, University of Oxford

Dr Andrew Princep, Research Fellow, Wadham College Oxford and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

Prof David Pyle, Professor of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford

Dr Suzie Sheehy, Royal Society University Research Fellow, Physics, University of Oxford

Prof Jason Smith, Professor of Photonic Materials and Devices, University of Oxford and Mansfield College

Dr Deborah Sneddon, Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Oncology, University of Oxford

Dr Elizabeth Tunbridge, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford

Prof Angus J Wilkinson, Head of Department, Department of Materials, University of Oxford

Dr Hamish Yeung, Glasstone Research Fellow in Inorganic Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory, University of Oxford.

See also these stories from other universities involved:

UCL backs inquiry into diversity in STEM

Scientists help secure Government inquiry into impact of funding policy on diversity (Plymouth)

Diversity in Research call in Parliament (Salford)

Dr Sam Giles among 200 scientists behind new inquiry into equality and diversity in STEM  (Christ Church, Oxford)

University of Nottingham researchers back diversity in STEMM inquiry