Inequality faced by BME students and staff in HE is laid bare

The inequalities faced by black students and staff in Britain’s higher education system were laid bare at the inaugural lecture of the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre (SLRC) at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).

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Professor Kalwant Bhopal, Professor of Education and Social Justice at the University of Birmingham, held a packed audience rapt as she presented the experiences of academics and students, as well as a new empirical study into why black academics leave UK universities.

She argued that white privilege continues to not only exist but thrive, with those in power overwhelmingly continuing to perpetuate systems that benefit them.
Professor Bhopal said: “On the face of it, policy paints a positive picture of race and Higher Education. I would argue that gender has been given precedence over race and that the main beneficiaries of policy have been white middle-class women.”

The lecture at DMU marked 20 years since the publication of the Macpherson Report. Commissioned following the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993, it made recommendations to tackle racism in the Metropolitan Police and more widely, to address issues in public bodies and in the national curriculum.

Professor Bhopal said: “Twenty years from the publication of the Macpherson Report into institutional racism, little has changed – and some things have actually got worse.”

Her latest book White Privilege: The Myth of a Post-Racial Society explores how policymaking has increased discrimination against black students using a mix of interviews and data.

Professor Bhopal revealed the results of her new research – carried out before President Trump was elected – which showed that black academics from the UK were more likely to consider a move to America. Respondents perceived a stronger focus on African-American studies and a more collegiate network than in Britain.

During the lecture, Profesor Bhopal showed:
• Where white students and BME students had comparable grades, the white students were more likely to be offered university places
• Black and Muslim students were more likely to be stereotyped by lecturers as “loud and challenging”
• Some 6% of UK pupils attend private schools, yet they make up 55% of Russell Group university intake
• Black academics are less likely to be promoted – there are only 85 black professors in HE.

A lively Q&A followed, which covered topics including the private schools system, the race equality charter, Oxbridge applications, and efforts to decolonise the curriculum.

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Universities which do not sign up to the Race Equality Charter – designed to improve the representation and progress of BME students and staff in HE - should not receive funding, she argued.

Asked about decolonising the curriculum, Professor Bhopal said the focus needed to begin much earlier than undergraduate level. She said: “It’s not just about replacing white writers with black writers. It’s about thinking how these modules are constructed.

“When I get my first students in university, in some respects it’s too late. It has to start at primary school. By the time I see students they have learned all this history, they have been to schools where the majority of teachers are white, where there are no black role models.”

SLRC Director Professor Kennetta Perry said Professor Bhopal’s work provided the data needed to drive conversations around race and social justice.

She said: “I think that what this research does is give us the data, and we can use that to ask the tough questions. We need to say, ‘Look at the data. How do you want to account for that?’”

* The next Stephen Lawrence Research Centre Distinguished Lecture entitled Research as a tool for Social Justice will be given by Dr Omar Khan, Director of Runnymede Trust, the UK's leading independent race equality think tank. 6pm, Thursday 28 March, Hugh Aston Building, DMU. See you there!

Posted on Wednesday 6th March 2019

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