Lecturers' failure to challenge racist attitudes and their lack of cultural knowledge often upsets and discourages Asian students from pursuing careers in nursing and other health-related jobs, according to a report from the school of health studies at Bradford University.
It says there is a need to train academics to identify and deal with racist behaviour in the classroom and to raise their levels of awareness of Britain's multi-cultural society.
The report, on improving the recruitment and retention of Asian students on nursing, midwifery, radiography and physiotherapy courses, by sociologist Aliyar Darr was commissioned by the West Yorkshire Education and Training Consortium because Asian students are under-represented on all professional health care courses run by the school of health studies.
As part of her study, Ms Darr carried out in-depth interviews with school-leavers, 28 Asian students, 63 parents, career staff and nurses from Pakistan who were working in this country on an exchange programme.
Asian students contributing to the research said they resented the fact they were often expected to act as a spokesperson whenever explanations were needed for specific cultural behaviours and practices relating to the Asian community.
They thought this was unfair practice and believed lecturers needed to increase their own awareness of the cultural and religious beliefs of different minority ethnic groups.
There was greater concern, says the report, about the level of ignorance shown by other students towards minority ethnic groups and their lifestyles. Student comments such as "Oh it's the Pakis not turning in" or "it's the Pakis coming late, it's the Pakis this, it's the Pakis that" were being left unchallenged by lecturing staff.
The report also highlights the negative attitude towards nursing as a career expressed by students and parents. Some raised concerns about the appropriateness of the nurses uniform but very few felt that nursing members of the opposite sex was unacceptable to them on religious grounds.
However, nursing was not seen as a challenging or mentally stimulating occupation. Rather it was seen more as a physically and emotionally demanding job.
The report is to be considered by the School of Health Studies management board and copies have been sent out to health trusts for information. An Association of University Teachers spokeswoman said: "We would seek any means to combat racism in any way. Training is one way towards this."