Social scientists analyse race bias

November 25, 2005

Black students are flooding into social science courses but failing to make it into academia, according to new research.

A debate has raged over the poor representation of black and ethnic minority academics in the social sciences, with some black academics arguing that the lack of a multicultural curriculum is fuelling an exodus to the US.

Researchers at Manchester University have analysed the percentage of black and ethnic minority students studying sociology, anthropology and politics at undergraduate through to research student level.

"We wanted to know why ethnic minorities make up 8 per cent of the population generally but just 4 per cent of social scientists," said Paul Wakeling of the School of Social Sciences. "We found that there is no shortage of students."

Of the three subjects, sociology has the highest percentage of ethnic minority students at undergraduate level, with 12 per cent recorded for 2003-04. Politics is the most popular subject at taught postgraduate and research-student level, with 17 per cent and 14 per cent of minority students respectively.

Mr Wakeling and co-author Jerry Johnson found that minority students were less likely to get firsts than white students in these areas. In sociology, 3 per cent of minority students received firsts in the years from 2001 to 2003 compared with 6 per cent of white students. Consequently, they are far less likely to be funded through their research studies. Minority students also tend to be older and bunched in new universities.

"The traditional path to an academic job is through a research degree in an old university," said Mr Wakeling. "Ethnic minority students seem to be on a different pathway, and this may be one reason why they are not getting into academia in the same numbers."

A report - Diverse Academy - published this week by the Association of University Teachers says the average earnings of ethnic minority academics are 88 per cent of their white colleagues' income.

The figures will fuel concerns about how universities are implementing the Race Relations Amendment Act 2002.

Marc Verlot, head of public policy at the Commission for Racial Equality, is expected to tell a Universities UK conference on race equality this week that universities must take a more sophisticated approach. "We'll be writing to them asking for examples of rigorous race equality impact assessments and evidence of how these have improved outcomes for students and staff," he said.

"Where there is no evidence of this happening, we will be taking enforcement action."

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