Report says race issues must be dealt with strategically and should not be an ‘add on’
Narrowing the “degree gap” between black, Asian and minority ethnic students and their white peers requires a cultural change among British universities and their leaders, according to a report.
The National Union of Students and the Universities UK group calls, in a joint report, for vice-chancellors and principals to show “strong leadership” to close the gap and ensure that their campuses encourage racially diverse workforces and student bodies.
The report concluded: “A change in culture is needed alongside a clear institutional message that issues of race will be dealt with as part of wider, strategic, organisational practice, not as an ‘add on’.”
A university in UK is to ask its nearly 140 members to sign up to an online pledge to work with students and use the report’s recommendations within their institutions, with progress to be evaluated in 2020.
Despite the rapid increase in the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students in the past decade, 71% of Asian students and just 57% of black students gained an upper second or first in their undergraduate degree, compared with 81% of white students. Black students were estimated to be one and a half times more likely to drop out than white or Asian students.
Valerie Amos, the director of Soas, University of London and one of the report’s authors, said universities would be “failing a generation of students if we don’t act now to reduce the BAME attainment gap”.
She added: “It is important that universities act and are transparent in their approach so black, Asian and minority ethnic students are given the best chance of success. Inaction is not an option.”
One of the report’s key recommendations is that BAME students would benefit from a racially diverse campus environment.
“University leadership teams are not representative of the student body and some curriculums do not reflect minority groups’ experiences,” the report concluded. “A greater focus is needed from universities, working with their students, on ensuring that BAME students have a good sense of belonging at their university, and on understanding how a poor sense of belonging might be contributing to low levels of engagement and progression to postgraduate study.”
The report noted that in 2017 BAME people made up 16% of all academic staff – a higher rate than in the UK population – but just 10% of professors. Of all professors, just 0.6% were black.
Amna Atteeq, the president of the University of Aston’s student union who participated in discussions forming the report, said it was important for universities to look further afield for BAME role models if they were not on staff.
She said: “Role models should be staff who can inspire students to achieve their best, but role models can also be graduates or people who are successful in a particular field, like engineering, who can help students overcome the unconscious bias in what types of careers they follow.”
But, she added, to close the attainment gap universities “need to have black and minority ethnic staff and students around the table.”
Chris Millward of the Office for Students (OfS), the higher education regulator in England, said universities should urgently act on the report’s recommendations.
He said: “We know that stubborn gaps in attainment between certain ethnic groups are stopping some students from fulfilling their true potential. In particular, black students are much less likely to complete their studies, secure a first or upper second-class degree, or find graduate-level employment than their white peers. This is not right, and it must change.”
The OfS has set a target for the sector to eliminate the gap in degree outcomes between white and black students by 2024-25.