Funding competition to improve access and participation for black, Asian and minority ethnic students in postgraduate research

Research England (RE) and the Office for Students (OfS) have launched a joint funding competition for project proposals to improve access and participation for black, Asian and minority ethnic groups in postgraduate research (PGR).

The issue

Persistent inequalities exist throughout higher education for black, Asian and minority ethnic students.

Some of the inequalities that are present for black, Asian and minority ethnic undergraduate students – such as the gap in degree outcomes between white students and black students – are reflected in the underrepresentation of black, Asian and minority ethnic students in PGR.

Competition aims

The aims of this competition are to:

  • stimulate innovation, scale-up and distribute effective practice in increasing access and participation for black, Asian and/or minority ethnic groups in PGR 
  • ambitiously address evidenced issues of inequality across the PGR student lifecycle that create barriers for students from black, Asian and/or minority ethnic groups
  • collaborate strategically to embed equality, diversity and inclusion across the sector to improve access and participation for black, Asian and/or minority ethnic groups in PGR.

How to apply for funding

All providers in the Approved (fee cap) category of the OfS Register that are eligible for RE funding (as detailed in RE’s terms and conditions) are eligible to apply for this funding.

Other providers and third sector organisations can be involved in proposals as part of a collaboration.

Please read our bidding guidance for full details of how to apply for funding and eligibility criteria.

The deadline to submit bids is midday on Thursday 27 May 2021.

Read our bidding guidance


Research England and the OfS jointly delivered a webinar to provide information about the funding competition.

Watch the recording of the webinar

Additional information

Applicants should ensure they fully address all the elements required in the bid template (Annex A on our bidding guidance webpage). Full details of the competition background and expectations are available in the bidding guidance.

Date Activity

22 October 2020

Call opens

26 November 2020

Online event for interested bidders

Midday, 27 May 2021

Deadline for bids to be submitted to the OfS

June to July 2021

Assessment process

July 2021

Panel meeting to review and recommend bids for funding decisions, and communication to bidders

September 2021

Funding available

Projects must commence

First evaluation meeting

September 2025

Projects must conclude

Funding ends

March 2026

End of project reports due

This is an emerging area of access and participation in higher education. Resources that bidders may find helpful can be found on our support for postgraduate research students page.

Frequently asked questions

1. Is there a maximum amount of funding or number of projects that will be funded?

There is £8 million available for this competition. We are seeking high-quality proposals providing additional activity to address the priority areas.

The final number of funded projects will depend on the quality of bids received, available funding, and the judgements and recommendations made through the assessment process.

2. Is there a minimum and maximum level of funding a provider can apply for?

Individual awards will be made at a minimum of £200,000 and up to a maximum of £400,000. Collaborative bids from multiple institutions can apply for up to £800,000. We anticipate funding a number of projects to explore the widest range of activities across the broadest portfolio possible.

3. Is full economic costing required?

No, but you may use this methodology if you wish to do so. All project costs (and the basis on which they are calculated) must be clear and understandable as these will be considered as part of the assessment process. All costs must be reasonable, particularly for the funding sought from us.

4. Is co-investment a requirement?

Bids should demonstrate strategic commitment from all partners involved. We expect an appropriate level of co-investment to be provided by the higher education providers and external partners involved in the bid. This may be through cash investment or investment in kind.

While we will not set a specific required ratio of co-investment, we will seek the rationale for the amount specified and how this demonstrates commitment to the project, to future sustainability and to risk sharing, alongside OfS and RE funding.

Whilst we are seeking strategic co-investment, we are conscious of the significant pressures faced by the higher education sector and the economy due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Bids should set out a clear rationale for the level of co-investment. If only limited co-investment is possible please explain why, including how the activities in the bid will be sustained beyond any funding period.

5. Can other organisations apply for this funding?

Other organisations can be partners in proposals, but the project lead must be a higher education provider that is eligible for OfS and RE funding.

Bids will need to demonstrate clearly what all partners will contribute to the project, the nature and scope of their involvement, the investment they are contributing and how the collaborations will work successfully, if funded.

6. Are international students eligible as a target group?

No. The target group for this call are UK domiciled students, as defined by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) at time of entry into their undergraduate studies (in the case of current undergraduate students) or entry into their postgraduate studies.

7. Which activities can be funded as part of this programme?

Only activities that support the overall aim of the programme and specific project will be funded. The funding is to support effective practice in access and participation, and projects may wish to draw on established practice in access and participation at undergraduate level.

Examples of evidenced activity at undergraduate and postgraduate level can be found on the Office for Students website and TASO.

We would also recommend connecting with your provider’s access and participation team who will have expertise in developing and evaluating access and participation activities.

The funding can be used to pay for staff and non-staff costs directly related to the project activities. This does not include funding for research activities (other than applied research within the context of the project evaluation). Examples of staff costs include project co-ordination, mentoring and evaluation expertise.

Examples of non-staff costs including events organisation, activity development and administration, travel, incidental costs for students participating in any project activities and marketing.

Technology-led activities are in scope, as long these are evidence-based and relate to the project aims.

Funding may be used for activity across the student life cycle. This may include routes into postgraduate research study, experiences during postgraduate research study and routes from postgraduate research study into teaching or research careers and careers beyond academia.

Funding may not be used to:

  • create individual PGR student positions (e.g. to offer individual PhD positions or studentships) as the purpose of this funding is sit alongside existing sector investments in PGR studentships. This means funding cannot be used for tuition fees and living expenses, for new or existing PGR programmes. However, funding may be used to provide appropriate bursaries or financial support for individuals to improve access or participation in PGR study (e.g. grants that provide opportunity for individuals to travel to prospective universities)
  • conduct exploratory research (beyond applied evaluation)
  • support current and/or ongoing activities which will happen without the funding.

Activities must to be directly related to the aims of the project, and relate to activities to improve access and participation for Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups.

8. Are summer schools an eligible activity?

Activities that relate directly to the aims of the project and are within the scope of the programme are eligible. This can include summer placements or internships as long as they are evidenced within the project. They must also meet the assessment criteria in relation to new and innovative practice and sustainability beyond the lifetime of the project.

9. Is intersectionality within scope of the project?

We are keen to fund a range (in scope and scale) of approaches and activity to test interventions and innovations. These may be across types of providers, places, approaches, academic subjects, Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups and stages of the PGR lifecycle. This might also include addressing the intersection of ethnicity with other student characteristics (such as protected characteristics or underrepresented groups) where gaps in representation at PGR level have been identified.

10. What funding model should we use?

We have not set out what funding model we expect, as each project will have a different range of activities and its own cost base. We can accept full economic costing (FEC) if it is appropriate to your project, we would highlight that we are seeking a level of co-investment and this should be a consideration.

You can use FEC if this is appropriate for your project. We would generally expect the indirect costs to be covered by the institution, as part of its co-investment and contribution to the project costs. However, this may not be appropriate in all cases.

You should describe the funding model in the bid and the key costs, as per the information requested in the template. You should also clarify the overall costs and investment package, which organisations are paying for the activities and how the key activities will be maintained and resourced after the funding period (should your bid be successful).

Salaries and other revenue funding can be included in the costs, however the RE/OfS funding cannot be spent on capital costs. If capital elements are essential, these must be covered by the institutions involved or partners.

11. Can funding be used to support individual studentships?

No, this funding cannot be used to create individual PGR studentships or positions. The funding is to support activities to improve the access and participation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups in postgraduate research study.

12. Who are PGR students?

Postgraduate research (PGR) students are those registered on research-based programmes e.g. MPhils and PhDs at Level 7/8, (as defined by the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications of Degree Awarding Bodies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland).

A research-based higher degree is a postgraduate programme comprising a research component (including a requirement to produce original work) that is larger than any accompanying taught component when measured by student effort. A provider may judge whether or not a course is eligible through the classification of that course in their HESA return.

13. Would non-provider contributions (such as from industry) be permitted in the Letters of Support?

Yes, funding from non-providers is encouraged where possible.

14. Do projects have to be collaborative?

No, projects do not need to be collaborative.

If a project is collaborative, partners do not need to be another higher education provider, they could include third sector organisations for example. Where a proposal is collaborative, it must be coherent with all partners having a strategic interest in the activities and there must be full commitment to the project, and co-investment as appropriate.

15. Could a provider from a devolved nation be included as a partner?

Yes. However, funding can only be provided to higher education providers based in England and meeting the eligibility requirements. Therefore, any provider from a devolved nation involved in the bid could not receive any of this funding and would have to fund any commissioned activity separately.

In terms of how they can be involved, they can participate in any capacity, if it is clear in the project proposal how they are contributing and how it adds value to the project.

This could be a variety of ways such as supporting students from their nation in participating in outreach activities or provision of strategic advice (e.g. maybe they have an evidenced intervention that is being scaled up in the English context). They will of course not be able to receive any funding.

16. Can providers be involved in more than one bid?

Providers may only lead on one bid (individual or collaborative) but may be involved in up to three bids as a partner; therefore no more than four bids in total. The maximum number of bids in which any organisation can be involved is four.

17. Can international partners be included in the bid?

Providers from outside the UK nations can also be a partner; however, they will not be able to receive funding.

18. Are third sector organisations eligible to receive funding?

Third sector organisations are eligible to participate as partners in up to three bids and therefore eligible to receive funding to carry out activities directly related to the project.

It will be the responsibility of the lead provider to manage partnerships and appropriately allocate funding to partners.

19. My bid has exceeded the page limit. What are the consequences?

Our assessors and the panel will reserve the right to stop reading proposals if they exceed the page limit.

20. How will providers be informed of bid outcomes?

We will inform bidders whether they have been successful during late July or August 2021. We will then agree award letters with all successful bidders.

21. When do projects need to start by?

Activities must commence by September 2021 and be for a maximum of four academic years (2021-22, 2022-23, 2023-24 and 2024-25), though projects can be shorter than this. Final evaluation and reporting will take place in March 2026.

22. When do projects have to complete by?

Projects must not run beyond four years and all project activities and evaluation must be completed by March 2026.

23. What monitoring requirements will be involved?

Interim project monitoring reports will focus on progress against key criteria, objectives, impact and milestones, financial accountability, and risk management.

The end of project report will also seek information on the learning and key outcomes derived from the project, even if these will run beyond the funding period.

As indicated in the competition documentation, all funded projects must be involved in evaluation and dissemination activities undertaken by the OfS and RE. Further information on monitoring and evaluation requirements will be set out in grant award letters.

24. How will you monitor the diversity of applicants to the funding competition?

Bids for this fund will be developed and received from providers, rather than individuals. As such, funding awards will be made to the successful providers rather than individual people.

This reflects the way that the Office for Students and Research England deliver funding and that the intended project activities, including the project evaluation, are managed and delivered by the awarded provider. However, we will collect diversity monitoring information for the named contact person for each bid (as indicated at Table 3 of the bidding template).

We will monitor the use of the funding by the successful providers as per our grant monitoring processes.

25. How will you assess the impact of the funding competition for Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups in postgraduate research study?

This is the fundamental aim of the programme. We expect each successful provider to evaluate the extent that the funded projects improve access and participation for Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups in postgraduate research study.

All bids submitted for assessment must include an evaluation plan, as outlined in the bidding template. The types of impact evaluated will depend upon the approach taken by the funded projects.

Successful projects are required to work with the programme evaluator, which will be in place in time for project start.

The programme level evaluation will seek to understand the extent that the overall funding improves access and participation for Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups and will provide robust effective practice resources to support the English higher education sector.

It is anticipated that evaluated learnings from these projects will be shared throughout the programme duration.

26. What is the assessment process for these projects?

Projects will be assessed against the assessment criteria as set out in the guidance, firstly by staff from both the OfS and Research England.

Bids will then be considered by an expert panel, who will review a broad selection of proposals and make recommendations for funding as to the portfolio of bids that, in its expert judgement and taken together, best meet the criteria for the competition.

Bid criteria align with the strategic approach to equality, diversity and inclusion of both Research England and the OfS. We will soon be making further announcements on the appointment of a chair and the launch of an open call for membership of the expert panel.

27. Might bids be partially funded?

Each bid will be assessed on how well it meets the assessment criteria as a whole. The expert panel will be looking at a balanced portfolio as presented and contained in each whole bid, rather than at workstream level within a bid.

28. What approvals do I need to submit a proposal?

Bids must include signed letters of support from the Head of the lead higher education provider (often Vice Chancellor) and the Director of Finance at the lead higher education provider.

We would also recommend connecting with your provider’s access and participation team who will have expertise in developing and evaluating access and participation activities.

29. Why are we extending the deadline to this competition?

Due to the national lockdown, and its impact on the sector and individual’s capacity to develop and submit high quality projects, Research England and OfS believe it is in the best interests of the overall programme aims to extend the PGR competition deadline.

This is a substantial extension, which has been implemented to accommodate the uncertainty of the current pandemic situation and balance other work being carried out by the sector and by OfS and Research England.

We are also mindful that national lockdowns and COVID 19 has a disproportionate impact on certain groups, including people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

With the new extended deadline we hope this will release the pressure for project applicants in this difficult time.

We have not taken this decision lightly, and acknowledge that this will have an impact on projects that are close to being finished, as well as timelines for project start dates.

30. What is the revised timetable following submission of bids in May?

We will assess bids during June and July, with the aim of funded projects commencing in September. The funded projects will then run for a maximum of four years from September 2021. We have amended the timetable in the bidding document.

Contact us

If you have any questions regarding this competition, please email [email protected].

Published 22 October 2020
Last updated 09 March 2021
09 March 2021
Dates updated in process FAQs
15 January 2021
Deadline extended and new FAQs added
11 December 2020
Additional FAQs added
02 December 2020
Two more questions about process added.

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