Primitive culture

September 11, 2014

The experience of Jason Haye (“UCS ‘unhealthy for a black student’: graduate”, News, 28 August) is an unusual one, linked to a one-off incident. But it also raises a serious issue about higher education culture in general.

The fact is that students from ethnic minority backgrounds are less likely to receive university offers and perform less well in degree outcomes and in gaining graduate employment.

Work by the National Union of Students and University Alliance has highlighted how students from “non-traditional” backgrounds struggle with a dominant white middle-class culture.

The sector may have been “modernised”, but the culture of university life has stayed largely untouched. As a result, students who don’t fit the mould feel that they need to change something in themselves: who they are; how they act; their spending; their aspirations. Higher education needs to celebrate and not endure diversity.

Increasingly, employers don’t want a standard graduate. Keep putting the same kind of recruits in and you’re not going to get the innovation you want. You’re also not going to be able to provide a service to or work with a more diverse bunch of customers and partners. This is why the traditional graduate employers such as PwC have a higher apprenticeship scheme.

In practical terms, more attention needs to be given to the barriers to non-traditional students and what can make university an uncomfortable and unrewarding experience for some – the physical environment, the language used – and to giving back more control to students from different backgrounds in terms of providing more choice over how they demonstrate their capabilities and individual skills.

If the higher education sector is to contribute effectively to the bold aspirations for social mobility outlined in the Milburn report, a new mindset is required.

Debi Hayes
Deputy provost
GSM London

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