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Lack of 'ethnic mixing' in HE

Top universities need to do more to encourage black and minority ethnic students to take up prestigious courses, new University of Bath study finds

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | August 15, 2017 | Students

Some of the country’s top universities need to do more to encourage black and minority ethnic (BME) students to take up prestigious courses, a new Institute for Policy Research (IPR) Policy Brief has warned.

The study, Diverse Places of Learning? shows that black and Asian students are not spread evenly within the university system, but tend to be concentrated in big, multicultural cities. 

For certain subjects, most significantly medicine, dentistry and veterinary sciences, the brief suggests that a much greater focus is needed on ethnic diversity among students. Whilst some ethnic groups are over-represented compared to their share of the overall UK population for these courses, for 2014/15, only 0.3% of all new students starting out on medical or dentistry courses were Black Caribbean - a total of just 25 across the entire UK.  

For the same year, intake for veterinary sciences was nearly 95% white; fewer than 50 students starting out on new veterinary courses for 2014/15 came from non-white backgrounds. 

The researchers behind the IPR Policy Brief suggest that such enormous inequalities in ethnic composition for key professional degrees has significant implications for social mobility. They also argue these statistics pose challenges for the future make-up of professions, most notably medicine if its workforce is to reflect the diversity of the people and communities they serve. 

The bigger issue this presents is one of the lack of ethnic mixing. If we are to create a more tolerant UK society where people are aware and respectful of cultural and ethnic difference it is vital that greater mixing happens at these early stages in young people's lives

Other courses that face particular challenges in achieving a greater diversity in students include those in the creative arts. Even in otherwise diverse universities located in ethnically diverse cities, these courses stand out for their low ethnic mix. The report suggests London’s elite arts institutions in particular are failing to reflect the diversity of the city in which they are located. In order to diversify the arts sector and avoid a future white-dominated ‘high culture’, change is needed in recruiting practices they suggest.

The IPR Policy Brief highlights that the most ethnically diverse universities tend to be those in and around London. Yet there is a disparity in the split of students attending universities in ethnically-diverse cities, in particular those in the Midlands. 

The University of Birmingham and University of Leicester, for example, are both over 10% whiter than their surrounding cities. Birmingham City University, Aston University and De Monfort University, by comparison, are much closer, and sometimes much more ethnically mixed than their local areas.

Their findings show that across the board, students from white-dominated neighbourhoods go on to attend the least diverse universities for ethnic mix. This, say the authors, points to divisions in the ethnic composition of UK universities and throws up challenges for HE leaders around access, equality and social mobility. Recruitment responses must ‘go beyond lip-service’, they argue.  

Project lead and ESRC Future Research Leader, Dr Michael Donnelly from the University of Bath’s Department of Education, said: “Our analyses show that universities themselves differ markedly in their ethnic diversity. This is creating barriers to social mobility for young people from ethnic minority backgrounds and having significant knock-on effects for the ethnic diversity of key professions. 

“The bigger issue this presents is one of the lack of ethnic mixing. If we are to create a more tolerant UK society where people are aware and respectful of cultural and ethnic difference it is vital that greater mixing happens at these early stages in young people's lives.”  

Lead author of the report and co-researcher Dr Sol Gamsu of the University’s Department of Education, added: “The most diverse universities in the UK are less wealthy universities which provide higher education for large numbers of first-generation university students. Beyond diversifying elite institutions and desirable courses, racial justice in higher education requires the transformation of the hierarchy of universities to avoid the concentration of resources in institutions dominated by the white middle-class.”

To read the full report, visit www.bath.ac.uk/publications

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