GuildHE has released a report detailing some of the difficulties faced by ethnic minority postgraduate (PGR) students, including discrimination and a lack of financial support and representation.
A team of researchers from the Young Foundation’s Institute for Community Studies spent three months talking to students about their lived experience, with the aim of “influencing sector-wide interventions and leading to enhanced outcomes for students from ethnic minority backgrounds in PGR studies”.
BAME representation at postgraduate level is notoriously poor. In 2020, a policy briefing from the UK Council for Graduate Education found that, at the current rate of growth, it would take more than half a century for BAME participation in postgraduate research to reach its equivalent proportion at undergraduate level.
“Voices can only be heard if others are willing to listen and implement meaningful change,” said Susanna Mariam Matthan, one of the researchers behind the new report. “I hope that PGR student voices will be amplified even further through this collaborative work, enabling greater access, enjoyment and a deeper love of learning.”
‘Understanding the lived experience of ethnic minority students in postgraduate research’ makes eight recommendations to help improve the retention rate and overall success of BAME students at PGR level. They are:
- Increase the visibility of equality, diversity and inclusion, such as by appointing inclusion champions or cultural ambassadors
- Establish an institutionally-backed ethnic minority PGR network to offer collective support
- Create a functioning system for reporting discrimination and/or racism that avoids protectionism or prejudice, and gives a clear timescale for – and feedback on – the process. This might include appointing a race relations officer to support students in raising complaints, or partnering with organisations such as TELL MAMA UK
- Ensure that supervisors have the prerequisite training in supporting ethnic minority PGRs
- Where possible, provide students with access to a mentor outside of the supervisory relationship
- Where ethnic minority academics support ethnic minority students, their labour should be acknowledged and rewarded. White staff, meanwhile, can take advantage of anti-racist education and training to know how best to support their students
- Ethnic minority PGRs are more likely to self-fund their studies. HE institutions therefore need to reflect on how best to financially support them
- Smaller and specialist institutions do not typically have access to large financial resources, particularly for research. GuildHE and these institutions should explore options to develop relationships with research councils, governmental bodies, charitable trusts, industry partners, etc, with a view to funding these initiatives through additional sources of income
“This research not only deepens our understanding of the challenges faced by ethnic minority postgraduate students but also makes recommendations that small and specialist institutions can incorporate into action plans,” said Victoria Boelman, director of research at the Young Foundation. “By doing so, these institutions can make a tangible difference to the experiences of current and future ethnic minority students.”