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Research councils may tie funding to diversity accreditation

20 MAR 2014

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The UK’s research councils will look at tying funding to membership of schemes such as Athena SWAN, which promotes good employment practices for women in science, if they decide universities are failing to improve gender and ethnic diversity among academic staff.

That is the view of Iain Cameron, head of research careers and diversity at Research Councils UK, who told Times Higher Education that the body was now considering how best to evaluate the evidence and act if it was lacking. “If there is no evidence of change then maybe we should intervene a bit more firmly,” he said. But he stressed: “It is not the sort of thing that you do very lightly.”

RCUK issued universities with a Statement of Expectations for Equality and Diversity in 2013 that called on institutions to collect evidence that policies on diversity were working at the departmental level.

However, it stopped short of requiring them to obtain formal accreditation through schemes such as Athena SWAN, an approach other funders have taken. In 2011, Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, said medical schools without an Athena SWAN silver award would not be eligible for Department of Health research funding.

Dr Cameron said change was needed “across a whole range of diversity issues” so for RCUK it is “not as simple as getting Athena SWAN awards”.

RCUK’s statement of expectation lists several possible sources of evidence of diversity for universities including Vitae’s Every Researcher Counts initiative, Investors in People accreditation and Athena SWAN.

“The other side is that we do not fund the whole of research, [so] we are not in a position to regulate the system,” Dr Cameron said. “The reality is that because it is a culture change issue it does need time.”

But Louise Morley, professor at the Centre for Higher Education and Equity Research at the University of Sussex, said an initiative tying RCUK funding to diversity accreditation was overdue. She said that other changes to the sector, such as tuition fees, have been “implemented overnight”. “A key question is why higher education has been content to have such archaic gender regimes for so long?” she asked.


Read full article: Times Higher Education