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Now is the time for #EqualityinResearch

Friday 27-02-2015 - 15:43

Our STEM research departments are still dominated by white men. Vonnie Sandlan, NUS Scotland Women's Officer, writes about why this needs to change and how you can change it. 

Scotland’s universities have a long history of being excellent at research. Great research benefits all dimensions of our society, and clearly puts Scotland on the global map. 

I’m proud of the research that our universities do, and the students and professors who produce this research. Their impact reaches much further than just a paper in an academic journal, and improves the lives of students and benefits wider society. 

However, there’s a darker side to the excellent research that Scotland does. Research departments across universities are hugely unequal, predominantly favouring white men, who can work on full-time contracts. In fact, according to the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) statistical report for 2013-14, 79.5% of all professors in the UK were men. This figure is absolutely disgusting. In 2015, this vital part of the work our universities do is still dominated by men.

This figure is even more outrageous when considering STEM subjects, which include science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In these subjects, 84% of the staff are men. 

You might think this is because women students aren’t interested in STEM subjects in the first place. Maybe women simply prefer to go into humanities, or teaching or languages.  In reality, out of the students entering undergraduate studies in STEM subjects, women make up a fair 50.9%. 

This means that somewhere down the line, our talented women science students move to other jobs of different industries, and never make it to the top academic positions in their field. It’s a huge problem for women who have a passion for science and research, but also a huge problem for the academic community, STEM industries, and our economy. By missing out on the work of women researchers, we’re missing out on half of the talent in our country.

I can’t say it enough: this is unacceptable, and absolutely must change. Research in STEM subjects is crucial for our society and our economy, and leads to ground-breaking changes. Why are women being blocked out of this? What scientific breakthroughs are we missing out on by shutting out women from research?

Recently, NUS Scotland responded to a consultation from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) to change the conditions for the research grants that universities receive from the public purse. We’re asking the Scottish Funding Council to introduce measures that will force universities to change the way they recruit and develop research professors at universities, which will diversify the makeup of research departments. 

The SFC is going to make a decision about the consultation responses, including our suggestion to diversify the recruitment process, on the 21st March. For the next four weeks, we need the help of your students’ association on three things.

The first thing we’re asking you to do is to write to your local MSP, encouraging them to persuade the SFC to take decisive action on STEM research equality. 

The second action is to start meeting with your own principals and vice principals to get them thinking about the situation at your institution.  We don’t need to wait for the SFC to make the right decision, we can get things moving right on our campuses.

We’re also launching a social media drive to share examples of how diverse the research departments at our universities are. This is the third action. We want you to share examples on Twitter, using #EqualityinResearch, about the extent to which your research departments support women staff and students. 

Together we can make our universities more diverse, together we can make a difference for women studying and researching in STEM subjects. We need #EqualityinResearch now.

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