The UK Council for Graduate Education (UKCGE) has published a policy briefing highlighting the under-representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students in the world of postgraduate research.
Despite a rise in the proportion of BAME postgraduate researchers (PGRs) between 2016/17 and 2018/19, the briefing notes that the growth rate of 0.13% is so small that it would take more than half a century for BAME participation in postgraduate research to reach its equivalent proportion at undergraduate level.
UKCGE was prompted to publish the data following notice of a joint Research England (RE) and Office for Students (OfS) funding competition to improve access and participation for BAME PGRs.
From the archive: Universities failing to close BAME student attainment gap – UUK
As the policy briefing makes clear, the drop-off in BAME representation between undergraduate and postgraduate level is marked.
In 2018/19, white students accounted for 75.19% of undergraduates and 81.93% of PGRs, a difference of +6.74%.
By contrast, the same year found eight of the 10 minority ethnicities recording a higher level of participation at undergraduate level.
The proportion of black or black British–African students, for example, was 5.53% of undergraduate enrolments and 3% of PGRs.
While that 3% figure equates to the highest growth of BAME PGR representation – up from 2.63% – UKCGE calculates that: “At this rate of growth, it would take 24 years for the proportion of black or black British–African PGRs to equal the equivalent proportion at PGT level.
“Given that five other ethnicities saw growth of less than 0.1% over that period, it seems unlikely that greater diversity in PGR participation will be achieved without direct intervention.”
Research elsewhere indicates that lack of BAME representation creates a vicious circle. Last year, Professor Kalwant Bhopal, deputy director of the centre for research in race and education at Birmingham University, interviewed third-year undergraduates for a study about possible next steps.
As she told the Guardian, results showed that BAME students were less likely to apply to do a PhD, even if they were on track to achieve a first or a 2.1: “Our respondents from all BAME groups said: ‘I would like to become an academic but why should I try when there are no positive role models for me?’”
Another key barrier, suggests the UKCGE briefing, is funding, with students from every minority ethnicity less like likely than their white peers to have an award or financial backing for tuition fees.
For example, less than a third (32.66%) of white PGRs received no financial backing, as opposed to well over half (59.52%) of black or black British–African PGRs.
It seems unlikely that greater diversity in PGR participation will be achieved without direct intervention – UKGCE
“The existing inequalities for black, Asian and minority ethnic students at PGR study are not compatible with the aims of either of our organisations and there is a clear need for action,” said a joint statement by Steven Hill, director of research at RE, and Nicola Turner, head of skills at the OfS.
“There is an opportunity for the OfS and Research England to work jointly, to seek to facilitate change in the sector and to help develop lasting evidence to inform future provision.”
Thus, the funding competition for “projects that provide evidence of effectiveness and impact on access and participation for black, Asian and minority ethnic groups in PGR. We expect projects to provide effective practice and transferable insights for application across the higher education sector.”
Projects will likely be supported for up to four years, with individual awards ranging from £200,000-£400,000 and applications for collaborative bids from multiple providers available up to £800,000.
While full details of the competition will not be published until the autumn, RE and OfS say that “we are releasing this information now, to provide as much notice as possible for potential applicants”.