Universities need to begin a serious discussion about the lack of black staff and students on campus, argue supporters of the UK’s first black studies centre.
Nora Ann Colton, dean of the Royal Docks Business School at the University of East London, which will host the UK Centre for Research in Black Studies, said its work would be vital in encouraging sector-wide debate over the under-representation of ethnic minorities.
“I’m from the US, where we have a much larger area of discourse on African-American studies and higher education,” said Professor Colton, who was previously professor of economics at Drew University in New Jersey. “We hope…the centre will help to advance the discussion of these issues here.”
Professor Colton said that more research was needed to understand the aspirations of black students and how universities could meet them.
“Many black students aspire to be entrepreneurs, so it is important to create ways for them to engage with business and support their own business ideas,” she said.
Another issue to be addressed by the centre, which is supported by the school’s Noon Centre for Equality and Diversity in Business, is the persistent attainment gap between black and white students. Only 40.7 per cent of the former gained first- or upper second-class degrees in 2010-11 compared with 69.5 per cent of the latter, according to the Equality in Higher Education: Statistical Report 2012, published by the Equality Challenge Unit in November.
Existing research on the attainment gap tends to explain away the difference by citing factors such as social deprivation, prior attainment or the subject of study, said Gil Robinson, senior lecturer at the Royal Docks Business School and co-founder of the centre.
“It looks at these ethnic minorities and blames them, to a great extent, for the deficit,” Dr Robinson said. Instead, research should investigate ways to help black students to become more successful, he added.
The centre will also consider staffing: according to Higher Education Statistics Agency data for 2011-12, just 1.6 per cent of UK academics and only 80 out of 18,510 professors were black. In addition, successful black scholars often struggle to research black issues, having emerged from an academic culture dominated by white Eurocentric values, Dr Robinson argued.
The centre, which was launched in July, plans to hold an international conference on black people in higher education and to disseminate findings through a new peer-reviewed journal, Black Studies.