Ministerial visit highlights efforts to enhance diversity and inclusion in science led by the University of Leicester

MP Chi Onwurah visits Space Park Leicester

The Shadow Minster for Science, Research and Innovation, Chi Onwurah, has spent a day at Space Park Leicester, speaking to University experts about widening participation and inclusivity in STEM subjects.

The MP met with leaders at Space Park Leicester, which is forecast to contribute £750 million a year to the UK space sector over the next decade and is expected to support more than 2,500 direct and indirect jobs in the East Midlands. 

Located next to the city’s National Space Centre in Belgrave, the University of Leicester development is home to more than 20 businesses working in the space sector, including Airbus, CGI, EarthSense and Rolls Royce, with further expansion planned. 

The University and the National Space Centre are supporting programmes to enhance participation and inclusion in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects through outreach activities with schools, scholarships to encourage women to study STEM subjects and a PhD pathway programme to enhance ethnic diversity in academia. 

During the visit Physics and Astronomy students showcased a number of experiments including rocket propulsion, used in outreach work with schools to inspire young people to study science, and met with student scholars to talk about their career aspirations.

The Shadow Minister was also told about the University’s highly sought-after Space Degree Apprenticeship designed to help young people gain the technical skills needed to kick start a career in space.

In addition, she heard about the work the University is undertaking through The Royal Society of Chemistry’s Missing Elements Grant Scheme to address racial and ethnic inequalities in chemical sciences. 

Speaking about her visit, Ms Onwurah said: “It is great to be visiting Leicester just before International Day of Women and Girls in Science to find out more about the stellar work they are doing to break down barriers to opportunity, here at Space Park Leicester and across the University. I know that Chancellor Dame Maggie Aderin-Pocock is an outstanding champion for diversity and inclusion in STEM.

“As the Shadow Minister for Science, Research, and Innovation, I want to ensure that our country’s fantastic science base reflects the talents of the whole country. It is the right thing to do, and an economic necessity.”

MP Chi Onwurah with students

Ms Onwurah, who is also Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Diversity & Inclusion in STEM, was welcomed by University President and Vice-chancellor Nishan Canagarajah, Professor Emma Bunce, Director of the Institute for Space and Professor Richard Ambrosi, Executive Director of Space Park Leicester.

She was able to see how Space Park is helping to drive world-leading research, inclusive education and manufacturing in space and space-enabled sectors through its collaborative approach with industry. 

The Shadow Minister met industry partners including EarthSense, an air quality monitoring company spun out from the University’s research that was incubated as a small business and has since grown to be a major tenant at Space Park Leicester.

Among the facilities she had the opportunity to visit was the National Centre for Earth Observation which monitors the health of the planet through satellite instruments and data interpretation.

Professor Nishan Canagarajah said: “The visit by Chi Onwurah is incredibly important as equality, diversity and inclusion, together with widening participation, underpins the work of Space Park Leicester and the University as a whole. 

“We welcome showcasing our exemplar research, industrial, teaching and innovation cluster and collaboration facility. Space Park Leicester is based in an area of significant deprivation in Leicester and provides a powerful example of how academic and industry partnership can deliver meaningful change for people.”

Professor Emma Bunce said: “There are so many exciting careers available within the space sector and we’re making it our mission to help train, educate and inspire future generations to make new advances and discoveries through the space sector – all of which will add to the UK’s long-term prosperity.” 

Professor Sarah Davies, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Science and Engineering added: “We’re extremely proud of Space Park Leicester and its dynamic community from academia and industry undertaking leading-edge work to advance our knowledge of space and the world around us. 

“Space Park Leicester is supporting our ambitions to be at the forefront of ensuring inclusive education and skills training so we can support the UK to strategically address skills gaps in the space sector and science and engineering more widely. This collaborative effort is helping to boost the regional and national economy through its skills and education agenda.” 

Councillor Adam Clarke, Deputy City Mayor for Climate, Economy and Culture said: “Space Park Leicester is a brilliant example of how a university can support a city’s economic growth for the benefit of all who live and work here. 

“I was delighted to be given the opportunity to talk to the shadow science minister about the council’s partnership with the University and the wider Space City initiative that is providing such a welcoming environment for huge investment, jobs and skills right here in our city."