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Joint Letter with UACES to UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) in support of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
Dear Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive, UK Research and Innovation,
We are writing to you on behalf of the University Association for Contemporary European Studies (UACES) and the Political Studies Association (PSA). We wish to voice our support of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) work of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Research England and to express our concerns at the political interference in this work, the government monitoring of UKRI Officers’ social media and personal singling out of these individuals by the Secretary of State.
We applaud the adoption of the UKRI’s equality, diversity and inclusion strategy: research and innovation by everyone, for everyone in March 2023. We support UKRI in making EDI integral to its vision and mission and applaud it aim to use its “roles as a leader, a funder and partner, and an employer to foster a more diverse and inclusive research and innovation system, a system where everyone feels included, can participate in, contribute to, and benefit from our investments in research and innovation.”
We welcomed the appointment of colleagues to the Research England’s EDI Expert Advisory Group in July 2023. We support the groups mission to provide strategic advice on the prioritisation of key EDI issues in building research capacity and opportunity as well as delivering research that is more inclusive and representative of the population, and provide external guidance on the evidence base. We were particularly pleased to see that the group was tasked to provide key insights with regard to evaluating the EDI impact of existing funding mechanisms and policies.
We stress the need for continued engagement with EDI within the work of UKRI and Research England in the pursuit of advancing knowledge. There is untapped talent and potential, who are not fully able to contribute to and benefit from the research and innovation we support. We agree with the UKRI, as stated in its EDI strategy, that a lack of diversity limits creativity, ideas, discoveries, and innovation.
We note with great concern the letter sent to UKRI by the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology Michelle Donelan MP. We are troubled by the Secretary of State’s request to discontinue the EDI advisory group and calls into question the UKRI’s wider approach to EDI, and we are alarmed by the Rt Hon Donelan choice to single out two academics by name in her letter. Both women, one with publicly disclosed disabilities and the other black, are part of already marginalised groups in the Academy, and fear for the personal repercussion these colleagues face following the letter.
We note with regret that UKRI has responded to the Secretary of State’s letter by suspending “operations of the Research England Equality Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group with immediate effect”. This decision has sparked concerns and dismay across the academic and research community, who have raised questions to the UKRI’s commitment to tackle systematic structures of discrimination within the academy, as well as the independence of the funding body.
We note the UKRI is conducting an investigation into allegations made by the Secretary of State, and is reviewing the terms of reference of the EDI advisory group. We draw attention to the UKRI code of conduct for employees, which states that “In general, employees are free to take part in political activities. Participation in any political activity must only be undertaken in a personal capacity and employees should avoid becoming involved in political controversy on matters affecting UKRI,” and hope these principles will be applied in this investigation. We expect the investigation’s report to clarify the rules for UKRI office holders and the expectations placed on them in terms of their public conduct.
We welcome your update to the community published on 2 November in which you have clarified your and the UKRI’s position. We note you remain fully committed to the principles of freedom of speech and EDI, and that the actions taken are aimed to uphold these principles, despite heightened emotions. We expect your well-governed process to support evidenced and principled decisions will protect the UKRI from undue political interference. Independently from the investigation, we ask the UKRI to adopt a duty of care approach to their office holders.
We hope UKRI will remain committed to Research England’s strategic delivery plan, which calls for an EDI action plan. In the pursuit of advancing knowledge, we must encourage diverse perspectives and protect those who express opinions in a lawful and respectful manner, even when they challenge prevailing narratives.
We hope that after the conclusion of the investigation, the UKRI reconsiders its decision to suspend the EDI Advisory Group and to reaffirm its commitment to supporting EDI initiatives that address systemic biases within the academy. We reassure UKRI that we are partners in the endeavour to foster an inclusive, diverse, and equitable research community where academic freedom is preserved.
Thank you for your time and consideration. We remain seized of the issues at hand and would be pleased to speak with your team further about the topic. We look forward to constructive dialogue going forward.
Dr Rose Gann (Chair, PSA), Dr Koen Slootmaeckers (EDI Officer, UACES) and Prof Simon Usherwood (Chair, UACES)