Race Update 1 – Highlights from 2019 Reports

by | Jan 16, 2020 | Race Update | 0 comments

Welcome to the first post of the new RHS Race Update blog series! In this new series, Dr Shahmima Akhtar, Past & Present Fellow for the Royal Historical Society’s Race, Ethnicity & Equality in History initiative will post on subjects related to race, ethnicity and equality in UK History Higher Education (from reviewing publications to events and initiatives), on a bi-monthly basis. Follow the blog to receive all the updates by email.

Happy New Year! Let’s hope 2020 doesn’t give me much material to work on… I thought it’d be nice to begin with a summary of reports published last year as inspiration (let’s call it) for what needs to be done.

Nicola Rollock’s, “‘Staying Power’, The Career Experiences and Strategies of UK Black Female Professors’, UCU (February, 2019) made waves in The Guardian, Times Higher Educational Supplement, The Voice and the high-end fashion magazine Vogue. The report was Commissioned by the University and College Union (UCU) to investigate the smallest group of Professors in terms of both race and gender – there are just 25 Black British female Professors in UK universities. It revealed a sustained culture of bullying and stereotyping to the detriment of black academics in these roles.

‘Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Student Attainment at UK Universities: #CLOSINGTHEGAP’, UUK/NUS (May, 2019) found that the most significant contributing factor to the BME attainment gap according to 87% of respondents, was a lack of role models from different ethnic minority backgrounds. This was closely followed by curriculum delivery (82%), a lack of diversity in the ethnicity of senior staff (79%) and curriculum design (77%). Lower socio-economic background (75%) and university culture and leadership (72%) were more commonly perceived as contributory factors to the BAME attainment gap among student representatives.

Mohammed Ishaq and Asifa Maaria Hussain’s, ‘BAME Staff Experiences of Academic and Research Libraries’, SCONUL (June, 2019) found that 44% of BME staff experienced racial abuse in academic and research libraries and 80% were unhappy with how their reports were dealt with and felt it was insufficient. Significantly, librarians prioritised career progression and mentoring as the most important form of anti-racism action. Ishaq is in the School of Business and Enterprise, University of the West of Scotland and Hussain is in the School of Social Sciences, Heriot-Watt University.

Runnymede Trust’s, ‘Teaching Migration, Belonging, and Empire in Secondary Schools’ (July 2019) explains why a new approach to teaching migration, belonging and empire is required to reflect changing classroom demographics. For instance, nearly 17% (one in six) of children aged 0-15 in England and Wales are from Black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds, and BME young people make up around 27% (more than one in four) of state-funded primary and secondary school pupils. It stresses that teaching migration, belonging, and empire is not only relevant to BME students but offers ‘all young people a fuller understanding of the varied and wide-ranging cultural inputs that have contributed to the making of Britain’ in an inclusive and representative curriculum.

teaching migration, belonging, and empire is not relevant to students from current ethnic minorities alone. It offers all young people the opportunity to better understand the dynamic world they inhabit.

Kimberly McIntosh, Jason Todd and Nandini Das, Teaching Migration, Belonging, and Empire in Secondary Schools (TIDE – Runnymede Report, 2019)


‘Leading Routes: The Broken Pipeline – Barriers to Black PhD Students Accessing Research Council Funding’ (September, 2019) deployed FOI data collected from UKRI which revealed that over the last three academic years (2016/2017 – 2018/2019), of the total 19,868 PhD funded studentships awarded by UKRI research councils collectively, 245 (1.2%) were awarded to Black or Black Mixed students, with just 30 of those being from Black Caribbean backgrounds (UKRI, 2019). This is compounded by the fact that of 16.8% of all postgraduate research students who were from BME backgrounds (Advance HE, 2018) just 4% identified as Black (HESA, 2019).

Sofia Akel’s, ‘Insider-Outsider: The Role of Race in Shaping the Experiences of Black and Minority Ethnic Students’ (October 2019) examined the role of race in shaping the experiences of BME students at and Goldsmiths Students’ Union and how racism permeates the academic lifecycle. The report found that while almost half (45%) of students at Goldsmiths are from minority backgrounds, some have frequently experienced both overt and indirect racism from their white peers and white staff and did not trust the south London university to handle complaints. It further found that 26% of those surveyed reported experiencing racism from students and staff, including the use of racist slurs such as the n-word and the p-word in lectures. Almost half (49%) of respondents felt that Goldsmiths’ curriculums did not represent the lives and achievements of BME people. Additionally, more than three-quarters (79%) of those surveyed said they did not know where to report a hate crime at Goldsmiths.

Margot Finn’s, ‘Plan S and the History Journal Landscape: Royal Historical Society Guidance Paper’ (23 October 2019) brought EDI concerns to current open access discussions. The report surveyed UK and international History journals with reference to their planning for Plan S-aligned open access (OA) mandates. Plan S was first announced by cOAlition S in September 2018 and is supported by UKRI and the Wellcome Trust. The report notes that Plan S makes no reference to Equality, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) as protected by both European legislation and the UK Equality Act 2010. Finn notes that ‘UK research organisations should be proactive in testing and articulating any aspects of proposed policies that may prove deleterious to researchers with “protected characteristics” under the 2010 Act’. Finn references specific EDI concerns relevant to the development of Plan S-aligned OA policies on pages 7-8, 23, 26-27, 53, 55, 60, and 70-72 and notes funding bodies’ and universities’ legal requirements with respect to EDI. 

‘Tackling Racial Harassment: Universities Challenged’, Equality and Human Rights Commission (2019) found that around a quarter of students from an ethnic minority background (24%), and 9% of White students, said they had experienced racial harassment since starting their course. This equates to 13% of all students. Further, 20% of students had been physically attacked and 56% of students who had been racially harassed had experienced racist name-calling, insults and jokes. In most cases students said their harasser was another student, but a large number said it was their tutor or another academic. However, the report was widely criticised in its definition of racial harassment and its sample choice; Nicola Rollock noted that the EHRC’s inclusion of anti-white harassment ‘will only serve to confuse universities who already struggle to understand and address racism against black and Asian groups’.

I’m sure there are reports I’ve missed out so feel free to email me at pastandpresentfellow@royalhistsoc.org to let me know of any. I’m hoping to create as up-to-date a bibliography as possible so this will be an ongoing project.

Shahmima Akhtar

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