‘Direct intervention’ needed to up BAME postgrad representation

Briefing note from UKCGE shows drop-off in numbers at PhD level compared to undergraduate

June 23, 2020
A black scientist
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Greater diversity among UK PhD students is “unlikely” to be achieved without “direct intervention”, according to a new briefing note that sets out the major challenges for the sector.

According to the briefing from the UK Council for Graduate Education, current data show that just 18 per cent of those on postgraduate research courses are black or minority ethnic (BAME) students, compared with a quarter at undergraduate level.

The change in the proportion has been so slow in recent cohorts that it could still take several years for overall BAME participation in postgraduate research to reach the equivalent seen at undergraduate level.

Even comparing taught postgraduate students and those doing a PhD shows stark differences, according to the data, which comes from the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

For instance, the largest growth among BAME groups in terms of PhD participation was for black or black British African postgraduate research students (PGR), whose proportion of the total PGR population grew from 2.63 per cent to 3 per cent from 2016-17 to 2018-19.

But even at this rate of growth, it would take 24 years for the proportion of this BAME student group to equal the equivalent share (6 per cent) at postgraduate taught level.

“Given that five other ethnicities saw growth of less than 0.1% over that period, it seems unlikely that greater diversity in PGR participation will be achieved without direct intervention,” the briefing says.

Other data from the briefing show that almost half of BAME PhD students received no award or financial backing for their tuition fee, compared with about a third of white postgraduate research students.

And although submission rates by ethnicity are not publicly available, data on PhD qualifiers within each ethnic group show that about 19 per cent of white PhD students qualified in 2018-19 compared with 13 per cent of black or black British African postgraduate research students.

“There may be several determinants for this disparity in qualification rate for postgraduate researchers, including mode of study. However, the disparity may also indicate differences in access to support during write-up and/or success rates across ethnicities,” the note says.

The briefing was released after Research England and the Office for Students announced last month that universities will be able to bid for funding of up to £400,000 this autumn for schemes to improve access for BAME PhD students.


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Reader's comments (3)

I am surprised no mention of the plethora of UK/EU only PhD funding. PGT courses are full of international students who have limited access to PhD funding.
Unfortunately none of this addresses the underlying issues that come from the black communities attitude to higher and beyond education, and to those from that community who are successful in undertaking it. As we seem to be following the USA in so many things, black culture included, this might open a few eye's from 6:00 mins in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNxh-plPxLc&t=520s
If we are going to move forwards into a world where everyone is treated fairly irrespective the colour of their skin, why are we talking about the colour of the skins of PhD students? We should not be selecting them on that basis!