REF panels more diverse but progress uneven

The analysis finds a better representation of women on influential panels, but warns there are still too few panellists from ethnic minority backgrounds

The make-up of members of the 2021 Research Excellence Framework panels shows “significant progress” towards increasing diversity – but numbers of ethnic minorities in the assessment progress still fall short.

That was the conclusion of a report by the four higher education (HE) funding bodies in the UK that analysed the membership of the REF panels compared to that of seven years ago, the time of the last framework, and the diversity of the permanent academic community.

The analysis covers the four main panels – medicine, health and life sciences; physical sciences, engineering and mathematics; social sciences and arts and humanities. It also analysis the numbers nominated for REF panel membership and the proportions of those appointed.

The analysis finds a better representation of ethnic minorities and women on influential panels, leading the funders to conclude “clear progress” towards improving equality, diversity and inclusion.

The data show that there is still more work to be done to align more closely with the general academic population
– Analysis of full REF 2021 panel membership

Although there were more minoritised ethnic REF panellists than either 2014, the time of the last REF, or 2018, when the criteria for current REF appointments was published, the panels were not representative of the ethnic diversity of the academic community.

Eleven per cent of REF panel members are from ethnic minorities, an increase of four percentage points since 2018 and 6 percentage points since REF 2014. However, 15% of the overall academic community is from a minoritised ethnic background.

“There is a statistically significant increase in the proportion of appointed panel members from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds compared with both the criteria-phase appointments (in 2018) and REF 2014,” the report notes. “[But] the data show that there is still more work to be done to align more closely with the general academic population,” the four funding bodies conclude.

The report continues: “Across all ethnicity categories, the values indicate there is no significant difference between the nominated and appointed pools; however when looking at selection rate, the lowest rate is observed for those from black backgrounds.”

Social sciences saw the most increase from 2014 (13 percentage points) and 2018 (4 percentage points). Representation on the arts and humanities panel rose eight percentage points. The STEM panels – medicine, health and life sciences and physical sciences, engineering and mathematics – saw increases of 6 and 2 percentage points, respectively.

Forty-five per cent of panel members are now female, up from 33% in 2014, and equivalent to the number of women in UK academia.

The representation of panellists with a declared disability rose from 1% in the previous exercise to 5% ” and is consistent both with the pool of nominees and the current permanent academic populations”, the report adds.


Read more: Review of future UK research assessment to be chaired by international panel of experts

Related news: REF review must motivate ‘diverse, creative and risk-taking work’ – Solloway

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