Ethnicity, Race and Inequality in the UK: State of the Nation is a partnership between Runnymede and the CoDE at the University of Manchester. It is edited by Bridget Byrne, Claire Alexander, Omar Khan, James Nazroo and William Shankley and includes fourteen academics who have authored chapters mapping racial and ethnic inequality in various aspects of social and cultural life in Britain that is evidence-based and rooted in contemporary patterns of ethnic and racial inequality. It ends with recommendations ‘to imagine a different or better future’.
For context, the 2011 Census showed that just under 20% of the UK’s population self-identified as other than White British, while the UK’s Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) population doubled in size from 1991 to 8 million people (14%) in 2011.
Beginning by outlining the context of the demography of ethnic minorities in Britain, Ethnicity, Race and Inequality in the UK considers citizen rights and immigration, policing and the criminal justice system in Britain, with a discussion of health inequalities (being bought to the fore by the Covid-19 crisis), ethnic minorities in the labour market, in housing, to arts, media and ethnic inequalities, considering politics and representation and experiences of racism. This blog is interested in the section on ethnic inequalities in the state education system in England as it pertains to the work RHS is doing on race, ethnicity and equality in UK Higher Education.
Runnymede trust was founded by Jim Rose and Anthony Lester in 1968, the trust was founded as an independent think tank to provide evidence-based policy recommendations to ‘nail the lie’ of racism and promote race equality ‘by providing timely, reliable and objective information’.
Colour and Citizenship published in 1969, focused on racial equality in Britain as experienced in social life of employment, housing, education, income, policing and welfare within a historical and political context in an effort to effect structural change on the level of the state.
Further, The Future of Multi-ethnic Britain published in 2000 covered religion, immigration, crime, educational policy, housing, racial violence, the arts, policing and prison policy to a hostile response by the British tabloid press.
Specifically, I will consider the chapter on ‘Ethnic inequalities in the state education system in England’ by Claire Alexander and William Shankley. It mainly focuses on secondary school education in relation to GCSE grades, rates of exclusion, Prevent policies, apprenticeship schemes, and other areas of discrimination against BME students but I will focus on Alexander and Shankley’s discussion of higher education.
Their research demonstrates that:
- Ethnic minority pupils disproportionately enter further or higher education and constitute 26% of all undergraduate students in England. However, they are less likely to attend Russell Group Universities, with the Black group particularly under-represented.
- The 2016/17 data show that all ethnic minority groups are less likely than White students to receive a ‘good’ (2:1 or first class) degree. However, ethnic minority students who attend Russell Group universities achieve a higher proportion of good degrees than those who attend New Universities.
- The 2016/17 data of those working in higher education institutions show an under-representation of academic staff from all UK-born ethnic groups, notably from Black and Muslim groups. There is an over-representation of non-UK national staff from Chinese, Indian, and Black African groups compared to the low representation of non-UK staff from Bangladeshi, Black Caribbean, Mixed and Other Black groups.
- The 2016/17 data highlight the under-representation of ethnic minority women, particularly at professorial level in higher education institutions.
Whilst much of this data is also supported by the RHS Race, Ethnicity, Equality Report, State of the Nation usefully disaggregates some of its findings further. For instance, there is a difference in the ethnic attainment gap between Russell Group and post-1992/New institutions, and across degree subjects.
Alexander and Shankley note that ‘the most notable attainment gap within a specific ethnic minority group and between institution type is for Black African followed by Black Caribbean groups‘. For example, 77.82% of Black students who attend Russell Group universities achieve a good degree compared to 66.33% of Black students who attend New Universities in Britain; a percentage point difference of 11.49%.
While there is a difference in the number of ethnic minority students who attend New Universities compared to Russell Group universities, the findings suggest the type of university a student attends continues to affect the likelihood of their achieving a good degree at graduation.
Alexander and Shankley further highlight the difference in access/attendance between institution types: for example, only 2,210 Black students graduated from Russell Group universities in 2016/17 compared to 19,020 Black students who graduated from New Universities.
This is a stark reminder of how much there is still yet to be done. And Omar Khan’s specific recommendations for higher education are worth considering:
a) All universities should establish an action plan for tackling black and minority ethnic (BME) attainment gaps. This should include the proportion awarded a first-class degree, as well as those getting a 2:1.
b) Universities and research councils and other funders should establish targets for graduate studies, to ensure that 20% of PhD and postdoctoral positions are filled by people with a BME background to address concerns over the ‘pipeline’ into the academy.
c) Universities should also establish targets for staffing at all levels, in hiring as well as progression in academic and professional appointments, as well as monitoring probation and promotions.
d) The Race Equality Charter should be adopted on an equal footing to Athena Swan, including financial penalties for institutions that fail to meet benchmarks in two successive years.
Overall, Ethnicity, Race and Inequality in the UK is a welcome addition to literature on equality and lack of in the UK and in the words of Runnymede’s director, ‘If Runnymede Trust is still around in another 50 years, it will be because we haven’t succeeded in developing the narrative, policies and social pressure to combat the inequalities outlined in this book. We must … admit Britain has often believed in and supported racism as a matter of policy and practice. Recognising that we haven’t always lived up to our values will allow us to better frame and deliver on a positive vision for the future’.
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