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Literature review on EDI barriers to postgraduate research relevant to funding

UKRI commissioned Advance HE to undertake an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) on UKRI’s standard Terms and Conditions (T&Cs) of training grant and training grant guidance. The aim was to understand how they impact Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) for UKRI research students. As part of this EIA, a literature review of current barriers to postgraduate research studies was conducted. This was the first step in identifying areas that might adversely affect the participation and experience of students from various protected groups. The Equality Act 2010 was used as a guiding principle for this literature review, to include evidence related to all nine protected characteristics. These are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

This literature review brings together evidence of barriers to access and participation in postgraduate research. It uses secondary data analysis and relevant sources, including reports, policy documents and focused research studies on the topic. Its aim is to highlight existing issues across a variety of EDI characteristics, highlighting best practice examples, where possible. In addition to covering all the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, it also provides evidence on some additional characteristics that are widely acknowledged as impacting access and participation in postgraduate research studies (e.g. socio-economic background and caring responsibilities).

What this literature review highlights is that EDI-related barriers to doctoral studies’ access and participation is an under-researched topic and predominantly covered by grey literature resources. Broadly speaking, financial considerations, inequities arising in previous educational levels (e.g. degree awarding gaps and type of HE institution attended at UG level), as well as lack of sufficient and appropriate support mechanisms and resources, are the most commonly identified barriers to equitable access and participation in PGR studies. Moreover, none of the barriers identified across the various characteristics seems to be mutually exclusive, something which could be interpreted as affirming the impact of compounding inequalities. However, although intersectional inequalities and their compounding effect in both access and participation to studies at all levels have been increasingly acknowledged, there seems to be a lack of research and data approaching EDI barriers to access and participation from an intersectional lens, particularly when it comes to PGR studies.

This literature review also highlights how certain characteristics are less well-researched than others. Specifically, pregnancy, maternity, parental and caring responsibilities, age, gender reassignment, sexual orientation and religion and belief are much less explored than ethnicity, disability and sex. This highlights the need for more and broader coverage of EDI aspects when it comes to exploring barriers to access and participation in PGR studies.

Finally, the issue of a lack of systematic, robust and representative EDI data available across the sector has surfaced. Issues with inconsistent data collection practices as well as reluctance to disclose have been identified across the various EDI characteristics. These need to be addressed as high priority issues, as data forms the first step in better understanding and effectively addressing minoritised students’ needs.

In summation, this literature review provides evidence on what has been done and what we know with regards to EDI barriers to access and participation to PGR studies relevant to funding. It also shows what we still need to explore more and understand better. With this in mind, we hope that this literature review will form a platform for more research on EDI barriers to access and participation in PGR studies.

Literature review on EDI barriers to postgraduate research relevant to funding
Literature review on EDI barriers to postgraduate research relevant to funding View Document