University accommodation commission launched to improve Black students’ experience

The commission established by Unite Students will deliver recommendations for the student accommodation sector in 12 months

A commission has been established, which aims to improve the experience of Black students living in UK student accommodation.

Unite Students – the UK’s largest owner and developer of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) – established the commission following the recent publication of its report, Living Black at University.

The Unite Students’ report found that 54% of Black students surveyed reported having been the victim of some form of racism in their accommodation – while three-quarters reported some level of impact on their mental health due to racism.

The commission will be chaired by Prof Iyiola Solanke, a professor of European Union law and social justice and dean of equality, diversity and inclusion at the University of Leeds. She is also the founder of the Black Female Professors Forum.

Other commissioners will be drawn from national organisations like the accommodation charity Unipol, mental health charity Student Minds and equality experts Advance HE.

The commission also includes representatives from professional bodies, including the Association for Student Residential Accommodation (ASRA), College and University Business Officers (CUBO) and the Association of Managers of Student Services in Higher Education (AMOSSHE).

Professor Iyiola Solanke
Prof Iyiola Solanke will chair the commission with the help of experts in mental health, student accommodation and inclusion.

Members will meet every two months for the next 12 months to collate and discuss research before setting out recommendations for universities, training and professional development programmes, and housing standards and codes. The commission will also highlight examples of best practices and find opportunities within existing national data collection for annual figures on the experiences of Black students.

The commission will work with two accommodation projects – at Newcastle University and London South Bank University (LSBU) – to understand the impact of new initiatives. At Newcastle, the Race Equality Charter accommodation pilot initiative is trialling approaches to inclusive halls. At LSBU, a programme funded by the Office for Students aims to develop better support for Black students’ mental health in consultation with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) on complaints resolution.

“At every level of education – including university level – a safe home environment is crucial to student success,” said Prof Solanke. “Student accommodation does not exist in a vacuum. Universities can and must do more to ensure that Black students feel seen, heard and safe. The push to decolonise the curriculum must be replicated across other areas of the university experience, especially accommodation, which is so crucial to student success.”

Jenny Shaw, higher education external engagement director at Unite Students, said: “The Living Black at University research we commissioned from Halpin Partnership showed that Black students have a poorer experience than their White peers in student accommodation, and that this negatively affects their wider student experience. This is clearly unacceptable, and I believe it is an issue we can, and must, address as a sector.”

Read more: University of Bath pledges more support for black students’ mental health

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