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NIHR publishes first year of diversity data for funding programmes

Published: 01 December 2021

The NIHR has today published its first diversity data report. 

Covering the year 2020-21, these baseline data show a break down of the number of applicants and successful awardees for NIHR research and career development funding, and the profile of people on NIHR selection committees, according to the four protected characteristics of age, disability, ethnicity and sex. 

It is the first annual collation of diversity data produced by the NIHR, following the introduction of an Equality and Data Reporting System in early 2020. It represents the benchmark against which the NIHR’s work to improve inclusion and diversity across its portfolio will be measured in the future. 

Mixed picture

Set out in a comprehensive report, which draws from the NIHR’s Equality and Data Reporting System, the report collates the self-reported data of 3,194 applicants, 1,814 award holders and 1,197 funding committee members. 

The data show that levels of diversity vary across the four characteristics, with diversity by sex the most developed, and people with disability well represented among public contributors. However, the report identifies a number of areas of concern across all characteristics, and sets out some of the actions that will be taken by the NIHR to tackle them.

It finds that: 


  • The proportion of women applying for career awards is very strong at Pre-Doctoral level (77.8%) and although remaining a majority at Doctoral and Post-Doctoral level, decreases along the career path to 46.8% at Research Professorship and 37.0% at Senior Investigator level. A similar pattern is seen with existing career award holders;
  • Women have stronger representation in career development programmes (62.0%) than research programmes (40.1%);
  • Female researchers are moderately underrepresented compared to male researchers when it comes to membership of NIHR selection committees, but make up almost two-thirds of public members.


  • Overall, the representation of ethnic minority groups in applicants (19.4%) is at a similar level to that found in university staff in NIHR-related research areas (17.8% on average);
  • However, researchers from an ethnic minority background were less successful at being awarded funding for research programmes (16.5%, compared with 21.2% for white applicants);
  • The percentage of award holders from ethnic minority groups is broadly the same for research and career development programmes, at around 15%, although it declines by career stage, to under 10% for Research Professorships and Senior Investigators.


  • The average age of funding applicants ranges between 46.6 and 52.5 years. These figures are mirrored for award holders, who are marginally older (48.8 to 56.5. years).
  • On selection committees, the age profiles are almost the same between career development and research panels, although public members have an older age profile than professional members.


  • The percentages of disabled people applying for funding is similar for career development and research programmes, although representation is higher at Pre-Doctoral level (5.1%) compared to later career stages;
  • Application outcomes are very similar between those who declared a disability and those who did not declare a disability (19.3%, compared with 20.1% for people with no disability);
  • The percentages of award holders with a disability are similar across career development and research.

Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Executive of the NIHR, said:

“Collating and publishing these data are crucial first steps towards removing the barriers that prevent people getting involved in health and social care research, whether as a researcher or funding committee member. 

“Although the picture it reveals is a mixed one, with patterns of positive change gradually appearing, especially in relation to female researchers, the data also show us that there are still structural issues to address that are common to so many other bodies and sectors in the UK and beyond. 

“It is for us now, as leaders and funders of health research, to accept, absorb and act upon these data, so that each subsequent annual report evidences a marked and continuing improvement in the equality of access - and success - experienced by all people, regardless of their age, sex, race or disability.”

Next steps

The report also sets out a range of actions towards improving diversity and inclusion, that are either already being done or will be over the next phase of NIHR work in this area.

These include:

  • Reviewing our positive action and accessibility statements to remove any barriers for researchers applying to us and where necessary introducing new policies and interventions;
  • Launching intervention and recruitment campaigns to encourage more applications from groups under-represented on our programmes;
  • Increasing the use of more inclusive visual imagery and language for funding calls and promotion;
  • Setting diversity targets for our funding committees, to ensure they are more representative of the people applying for funding.

Dr Esther Mukuka, NIHR’s Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, said:

“Today’s data publication shows us that  there is more work to be done to understand the causes of any inequalities at play and possible solutions for them.

“The next steps we have committed to taking are the right ones in the immediate future, while we develop a wider equality, diversity and inclusion strategy, due early next year.

“The NIHR will continue to  continue to track, report and evaluate its diversity, to ensure we are representative of the people we serve, and transparent about the opportunities available to all.”

Global Health

The report also includes data on the NIHR’s Global Health Research (GHR) programmes. Given the international nature of the GHR’s work and community, the data differ in some key areas. For example:

  • There is a higher diversity of ethnicity for applicants to GHR programmes; 
  • Females are less well represented in applications for GHR programmes (26.1% for the Research and Innovation for Global Health Transformation programme) than the average for non-GHR research programmes (45.7%) 


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