Could Universities Do More To Encourage Ethnic Diversity?

The Insitute for Policy Research at Bath University has published a report into ethnic diversity and the composition of student populations attending UK universities.

The new IPR Policy Brief ‘Diverse Places of Learning?’ suggests some universities need to do more to encourage BME students to take up courses.

For certain subjects, most significantly medicine, dentistry and veterinary sciences, the report 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 per cent 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 per cent white; fewer than 50 students starting out on new veterinary courses for 2014/15 came from non-white backgrounds.

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.

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.

Lead author of the report and co-researcher Dr Sol Gamsu said: “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.”

IPR policy recommendations include a specific focus for courses that are under-represented, such as medicine, and doing more to diversify recruitment, in particular for prestigious arts institutions. They also propose a renewed focus on teaching students from white-dominated areas more about race and ethnicity in order to help create more welcoming, inclusive university environments.



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