A study conducted by Oxford Research and the Wellcome Trust has recommended that funding organisations that give grants to PhD students should review how interviews, eligibility criteria, and internal selection policies mitigate against marginalized groups.
According to the study, some researchers are being refused grants due to the number of years they completed their doctorate, which is typically eight to ten years.
These bans could disproportionately affect researchers from underrepresented groups, disqualifying many of them from applying for grants.
The study, therefore, suggested that funders should reduce the criteria for giving grants to researchers. This is in a bid to change the narrative on how universities and funders can help under-represented groups succeed.
Room for resubmission of grant application: Another issue that researchers have with funders is that there is no window to resubmit grant proposals which has resulted in structural inequality. Part of the report said:
“Policies that prevent repeatedly unsuccessful applicants from reapplying may also contribute to structural inequality. Also, unsuccessful applicants should be given constructive feedback.”
Need to review application deadlines: The report also highlighted that application windows, which are used to reduce the volume of applications, may allow for more bias.
Furthermore, internal deadlines should not be set at inconvenient times for women and caregivers, or those with caring and family responsibilities.
The study also encourages universities and funders to consider whether interviews, narrative sections on CVs, or the ability to state prizes and funding should be used for the internal selection of potential grant applicants or in scrutinizing applications themselves, because these may unfairly benefit individuals with characteristics unrelated to project conduct.
Tanita Casci, director of Oxford’s Research Strategy and Policy Unit, who co-authored the report, told Times Higher Education that the measures were important “because part of addressing equity issues is how we evaluate quality and potential”.
A more inclusive PhD funding: The report also urged funders to drop matched funding requirements, which require universities to commit a certain amount of institutional funding at the application stage. The report adds that “Universities should also endeavour to inform all eligible researchers about possible internal funding opportunities when match funding is necessary”.
Also, selection criteria must be inclusive, and efforts should be made to ensure panels do not favour those who have “substantial support.”
Funders and organizations are advised to increase their outreach regarding funding opportunities and the application process because it seemed that some people had easier access to information due to discussions held in “closed groups”.
Adopting novel funding schemes: The study also requests that funders think about how new funding models, such as lottery-style programs or universal basic research incomes, might “improve equity for all researchers.”
In summary, the study recommends that institutions and funders simplify systems and collect more information on application data, to aid applications and increase inclusivity training for academic leaders to help them recognize unconscious bias.
More funding opportunities for marginalized groups: The study also cited the Wellcome Trust already has a dedicated funding stream for researchers who are black and people of colour.
In a similar vein, Oxford’s Dorothy Hodgkin fellowship program provides funding opportunities for marginalized groups. The marginalized groups mentioned are those who need flexible support resulting from a health condition or parental responsibilities.
Potentials for researchers from Nigeria: In general, the research has pinpointed the gaps in accessing grants for PhDs and doctoral research abroad. It has also made recommendations on how it can be easier, especially as regards diversity and equality which for the most part will favour Nigerians in the academia.
If this is anything to go by, Nigerians who have struggled to the source of grants to conduct their research programs in UK institutions will have an easier process.
Also, the likelihood to be selected for the grant should be higher based on the fact that the research has called for the need to avoid bias and discrimination against applicants as well as people of colour and marginalized groups.
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