New fund to improve postgraduate research participation and access

The Office for Students (OfS) and Research England have today launched a new £8 million funding competition to improve access to and participation in postgraduate research study (PGR) for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students.

These students are underrepresented in postgraduate research study – and new data published today by the OfS shows there has been little change in recent years. Participation in PGR study at high-tariff universities and colleges (where most PGR study takes place) remains low; 17.1 per cent of PGR students in 2017-18 were from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, a rise of just 1.4 percentage points compared to participation levels in 2010-11.

Evidence suggests that a number of barriers and equality gaps at undergraduate level continue to negatively impact Black, Asian and minority ethnic students’ progression to PGR study. For example, OfS data shows a difference of 22.1 percentage points between the proportion of white and Black students getting a 1st or 2:1 in 2017-18, while only 4.7 per cent of PGR students entering in the same year were Black.

Research England and the OfS are investing £6 million and £2 million respectively in projects to improve access and participation for these groups at all stages of the PGR student lifecycle.

Successful projects will look to address these issues through, for example, improving access for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students applying for and entering into research study; enhancing the PGR student experience for these groups; and diversifying routes into careers in research and teaching.

Bids will need to meet one or more of the following priorities:

  • stimulating innovation and/or distributing examples of effective practice or other insights which can be used to shape future policy to improve access and participation
  • tackling demonstrable barriers for PGR students from Black, Asian and/or minority ethnic groups
  • collaborating strategically to embed equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) for these student groups across the sector.

Proposals will also be assessed on the extent to which they engage Black, Asian and minority ethnic students in the design, development and delivery of the projects.

In the development of this work, the OfS and Research England have engaged with those with lived experiences relevant to the funding call, including PGR students and people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. The outcomes of a workshop held last year directly influenced the development of this funding call. 

In the near future, Research England and the OfS will make further announcements concerning the appointment of a chair and launch an open call for an independent assessment panel.

This work builds on OfS’s regulation of access to undergraduate education and its funding of local outreach partnerships, which are focused on communities across the country with the lowest levels of participation in higher education.   

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:

'I passionately believe in driving forward diversity across the UK’s research industry, ensuring that our most talented researchers, regardless of their background or ethnicity, have the same opportunity, access and resources to develop their ideas.

'By helping to widen participation for Black, Asian and minority ethnic researchers in postgraduate study, today’s funding call will be vital in unlocking the potential of our best and brightest across all parts of society. I cannot wait to see the creative proposals put forward.'

Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, said:

‘We are committed to working with Research England to tackle issues that affect teaching and research, students and academic staff. That’s the case for our joint work on knowledge exchange, and it’s crucial for understanding the pipeline of research talent and skills, particularly at postgraduate level. 

'Although Black, Asian and minority ethnic students have high levels of participation in undergraduate education, they are less likely to secure the top degree grades and go on to postgraduate research. The data published today shows the pressing need to address this, especially in the face of the additional challenges created by the pandemic. 

'I want to encourage applicants to be ambitious in proposing innovative approaches to unlocking talent and research potential from all parts of society.’


  1. Bids can be made for projects lasting of a duration of up to four academic years, with between £200,000 and £400,00 being allocated per project at single institutions and up to £800,000 being awarded for bids from multiple institutions. For more information, please see our bidding guidance.
  2. The deadline for bids has been extended to noon on 27 May 2021. Please see our FAQs for more information. A workshop for bidders will take place on 26 November 2020.
  3. Statistics published today by the OfS summarise the characteristics of UK-domiciled PGR students at English higher education providers with high average tariff scores from 2010-11 to 2017-18. Read the report
  4. We will be commissioning an independent evaluation of the programme, and we have also today published an invitation to tender.
Published 22 October 2020
Last updated 15 January 2021
15 January 2021
Competition deadline extended

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