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Help Parliament support a wider range of academics to get involved

26 Jul 2017

Naomi Saint, Manager of the Universities Programme with the Houses of Parliament, and Dr Lindsay Walker, Research Associate at Cardiff University, on improving the mechanisms for engaging with Parliament.

We now have the most diverse UK Parliament yet, with the recent General Election delivering a rise in the number of women, LGBT and ethnic minority MPs.

But what about the diversity of people who engage with Parliament?

One of the key mechanisms for researchers to engage with Parliament is by submitting evidence either in writing or orally to a Select Committee. Research by Dr Marc Geddes conducted in 2013-14 revealed that just 24.5% of oral evidence presented to Select Committees was by women. Gender balance within the higher education sector (predominantly universities and research groups) was only marginally better: 26.2% of oral evidence was given by women.

The research also revealed that gender was not the only issue – representation of academics was skewed. For example, the higher education sector accounted for just 8.1% of all witnesses, with 37.8% of academic witnesses based in London.

Since Professor Sarah Childs published a number of recommendations for a more representative and inclusive House of Commons, gender diversity data in respect of select committees witnesses has been systematically collected. From the latest statistics, we can see that diversity has increased, albeit marginally: 28.5% of witnesses last year were women. Although collecting data on diversity certainly illuminates the issue, it is a long way from the recommended 40% target

So, it is clear that some groups of researchers engage with Parliament more than others. What is not so clear, is why. Why are some groups of academics under-represented? What are the barriers to engaging with Parliament for such groups?

Fortunately, the UK Parliament is committed to working with as diverse a range of people as possible. The Universities Programme team, alongside the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, have just launched an online survey to identify the barriers to engaging with Parliament for academics. We invite readers to complete this survey and share widely with your academic networks.

The survey is 14 questions long and should take around 5 minutes to complete. Parliament would welcome contributions from anyone with something to tell us, although we are particularly interested in hearing from academics from groups who engage less with Parliament: women, academics from BAME backgrounds and academics with disabilities. 

After the close of the survey on the 18th August, we’ll be reporting our findings here and elsewhere and, most importantly, we’ll be developing activities focused on addressing some of the barriers identified and supporting a wider range of academics to engage with the business of Parliament.

Share your thoughts to help make Parliament more inclusive and representative here.

References

Childs, S. (2016) The Good Parliament Report

Geddes, M. (2016) Taking Evidence: Witnesses and the evidence gathering process of select committees in the House of Commons, paper presented at the Political Studies Association Annual Conference in Brighton, UK, 21-23 March

House of Commons (2017) Sessional Returns, Session 2016–17

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