UKRI Open Letter Update

Recap
In August 2020, ten Black women involved in UK research wrote an open letter highlighting the urgent need for greater transparency, accountably and inclusion. They were prompted to write after concerns were raised about the distribution of £4.3 million by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to examine the relationship between COVID and ethnicity.
In the letter, they highlighted that from £4.3 million of UKRI/NIHR funding, £0 was allocated to Black academic leads and that one individual who sat on the assessment panel was also co-investigator of three of the six awards.
This was contextualised within broader concerns. Such as, the frequent erasure and marginalisation of Black academics; how bias in research funding might shape knowledge equity and what is researched; and the discriminatory research culture that impacts upon the experience and career progression of Black individuals engaged in higher education and research.
Nearly 3,000 individuals signed the letter in support.
To discuss the challenges experienced by Black academics and potential future actions, Dr Adelaine and colleagues met with representatives from UKRI on the 8th of Oct 2020.
Summary Paper 
Dr Adelaine and colleagues have compiled the paper entitled ‘knowledge Equity 2020’ to discuss - the broader context of events that led up to concerns being raised; to record the discussion which took place on 8 October 2020; to document the response of UKRI and; to draw together some concluding thoughts.
Agreed Actions
The meeting with UKRI resulted in the following 11 actions being agreed 
  1. To publish an open response to the open letter
  2. Consistently collect equality data without exception
  3. To share disaggregated data pertaining to research funding. (shared in the funding diversity data report published Dec 2020[1])
  4. To make transparent and public the panellists and selection criteria involved in forthcoming research call assessment
  5. To review the funding assessment process and conflict of interest policy
  6. To support a symposium where marginalised academics can explore issues of concern and have their voices heard. The symposium will be co-designed and facilitated by those who have lived experience of the issue discussed
  7. To inform Dr Adelaine & colleagues how they can engage in the consultation on the policy paper ‘Reducing bureaucratic burden in research, innovation and higher education’ and other strategic policy discussions[2]
  8. To share what ‘Equality Impact Assessments’ have been undertaken under the ‘Public Sector Equality Duty’ and how to locate them
  9. To work with Dr Adelaine and the Freedom of Information Team to ascertain what information is forthcoming and what data can be requested. It is noted that Dr Adelaine is still requesting disaggregated data on UKRI staff; this is beyond the remit of the funding diversity data report
  10. To connect Dr Adelaine & colleagues with those working on internal EDI / staff inclusion so they can be made aware of how Black academics/ experts in race & inclusion might engage and support this process
  11. UKRI will facilitate contact with NIHR so the details of the specific fund can be discussed in greater depth
Action Taken 
In the period since the meeting some progress:
  • UKRI and the UKRI CEO, Professor Ottoline Leyser, have committed to collecting equality data on all research funding applications.
  • Awards such as the UKRI/ESRC research fund to explore factors affecting ethnic minority groups during COVID-19, have publicly stated their selection process, selection panel and consideration of conflict of interest
  • In Dec 2020, UKRI published their disaggregated funding data which highlighted that in the 2018-2018 year, just 10 Black individuals were principal investigators of UKRI research; Black academics were significantly less likely to be successful in their applications and across the 9 research councils 4 or less Black individuals were awarded fellowships. Whilst transparency is welcomed it further highlights the severity of the challenges presented.
  • Dr Adelaine and colleagues have continued to communicate with UKRI about the actions highlighted
Action Still Needed  
However, there is still an incredible way yet to go:
  • UKRI has not yet responded to the open letter signed by nearly 3,000 individuals.
  • Whilst disaggregated funding data was released, UKRI has not yet released funding data regarding its own staff members
  • The disaggregated data on ethnicity does not explore the intersection of race and gender. It is not possible to assess the discrimination encountered by Black women
  • Whilst there is greater transparency in information about funding awards and processes, this data has not disaggregated ethnicity (making it impossible to distinguish the experience of Black individuals), and the role of Principal Investigators and Co-Investigators has been combined, making it impossible to determine who is leading the research process
  • Dr Adelaine and colleagues have not yet been given information regarding how they might engage with the review of the funding assessment process or conflict of interest policy
  • Dr Adelaine and colleagues have not yet been given information regarding the symposium for marginalised academics
  • Dr Adelaine and colleagues have not yet been given information regarding how they might engage in policy or strategy discussions, such as the policy paper 'Reducing bureaucratic burden in research, innovation and higher education’ and other strategic policy discussions
  • Dr Adelaine and colleagues have not yet been given information regarding how they might view or access the relevant Equality Impact Assessments
  • Dr Adelaine and colleagues have not yet been connected to UKRI staff members who are working on the internal EDI strategy for staff members
  • Dr Adelaine and colleagues have not yet been connected to NIHR staff members, so they can discuss the details of the specific fund can be discussed in greater depth

[Admendment:  In an earlier version of this blog, I highlighted that the Government steering group on Research and Development (R&D) People and Culture Strategy which had no Black members, I have subsequently been notified that the membership has changed and there is now at least one Black individual involved - This is great news!].

Next Steps
We wish to continue to work with UKRI to support transparent, accountable and inclusive change in the research sector.
To discuss where we are at now we will be holding a second knowledge equity event.
Fri, 19 Mar 2021 18:30
In this event, we will be broadening out from a specific focus on race to more broadly consider marginalised academics of different identities and accountability in research procurement and processes.
Concluding Thoughts

Whilst we appreciate that UKRI is a large and complex organisation that is impacted by a range of actors and external factors, we are concerned that the pace of action is too slow.
At this critical time, where our society is being impacted on an unprecedented scale and when the research sector is being re-landscaped to meet current needs, we believe that decisions must be made in a transparent, inclusive and accountable way.

Black academics/researchers (alongside other under-represented groups of academics/researchers) must be involved so that research equity is ensured.

We would like to thank everyone who has been involved and who signed the open letter. Please be aware that whilst we have not been as publicly vocal, we have continued to work behind the scenes to create change.
We would also like to thank individuals at UKRI who have continued to work with us and to support change.
Kind Regards 
Dr Addy Adelaine & Colleagues
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[1] https://www.ukri.org/our-work/supporting-healthy-research-and-innovation-culture/equality-diversity-and-inclusion/diversity-data/
[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/reducing-bureaucratic-burdens-higher-education/reducing-bureaucratic-burdens-on-research-innovation-and-higher-education
[3] https://www.ukri.org/news/viewpoint-we-must-reshape-the-system-to-value-and-support-difference/