Improving minority ethnic groups’ access to postgraduate research

Two women using a laptop together in a college library

New projects will tackle inequalities that create barriers for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students to access and take part in postgraduate research (PGR).

The 13 new projects, worth nearly £8 million, are innovative in scope, scale and focus to an extent that has not been seen in England before.

The projects will be delivered over the next four years and will:

  • improve access into research
  • enhance research culture and the experience for Black, Asian and minority ethnic PGR students
  • diversify and enhance routes into a range of careers.

Projects across England

The investment by Research England, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and the Office for Students (OfS), is well spread geographically, across English higher education providers and their partners.

The projects range from:

  • targeting recruitment, admissions and transition to increasing the number of Black, Asian and minority ethnic female professors
  • generating new admissions practices to creating longitudinal, systemic, and structural change at various English universities.

A significant first step

Panel co-Chairs, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and Maisha Islam, said:

Over the course of 2020 to 2021, the longstanding urgency for racial equality was incredibly obvious.

We are confident that this competition will be a significant step of tangible action, investment and commitment to support these aims in the context of English higher education.

The 13 projects will work collectively to support the entire PGR lifecycle using innovative methods and approaches.

This includes reviewing admissions processes to tackling offer rate gaps, and plans to extend routes into doctoral study via professional doctorates and partnering with the NHS.

Other projects will focus specifically on intersectional inequalities related to Black female students, and prioritise the mental health of their PGR students of colour.

We have sought to back projects that have demonstrated authentic engagement and partnership work with their students and staff of colour, and a commitment to continue this as part of their own ongoing evaluations.

This is only one of many first steps, as systemic inequalities will not disappear overnight.

We are acutely aware of how much further the sector needs to travel to be in a position to allow people of all backgrounds to flourish and establish the most outstanding research and innovation sector with a formidable research culture to match.

Read the full list of project summaries on the Research England website.

Addressing attainment gaps

Research England’s Director Research, Steven Hill, said:

Persistent inequalities occur throughout higher education for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students.

Some of the inequalities that exist for Black, Asian and minority ethnic undergraduate students, such as the current gap in degree outcomes between white students and Black students of 18.3 percentage points are reflected in the underrepresentation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic students in PGR students.

PGR students are also researchers and teachers, and play an important role in supporting the research and academic talent pipeline.

Supporting access and successful participation for Black, Asian and minority ethnic PGR students through these 13 innovate projects is crucial, both to improve opportunities for current generations, and to increase the diversity of talent into academic careers, which has been identified as important to addressing attainment gaps.

Tackling the issues

Director for fair access and participation at the OfS, Chris Millward, said:

Black, Asian and minority ethnic students have high levels of participation in undergraduate education, but they are less likely to secure the top degree grades and go on to PGR.

This then affects their representation among academic staff, particularly at senior levels.

The projects will ambitiously tackle the issues causing underrepresentation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic students in PGR, with the aim of stimulating innovation and developing effective practice for universities and colleges throughout the country.

This is vital, so that PGR in this country can benefit from the talents of people from all backgrounds.

Top image:  Credit: PeopleImages, Getty Images

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