Staff network targets black students' needs

June 23, 2006

A new national network to provide support for staff teaching black and ethnic-minority students was launched this week as a report accused universities of complacency over widening participation among certain ethnic groups.

The Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Education Network, introduced at a conference held in London on Wednesday, aims to lobby policymakers and university heads to act on recommendations that were made three years ago on improving participation rates among black and ethnic-minority students.

Research conducted by Tribal Group consultants has found that "nothing of note has happened" since a major study in 2002-03 showed that most black and ethnic minority students tend to underachieve and are clustered in the same kinds of institutions and subject and geographical areas.

A report on the Tribal Group's findings says that it appears that no action has been taken because policymakers and bodies such as Universities UK are working from headline statistics that ignore the detailed picture.

The report adds: "The needs of BME learners are mostly rolled up into generic widening-participation policies. We conclude that BME participation is dropping off the higher education agenda."

Nadira Mirza, deputy dean of lifelong learning at Bradford University and a member of the BME Education Network steering group, said: "Policymakers view all ethnic-minority groups as being the same, and so refuse to recognise that students from Afro-Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds go to university in proportionately much smaller numbers, are concentrated on particular courses, ghettoised in particular types of universities, and find it harder to find work after graduation."

Julie Tolley, a consultant at Tribal Group who wrote the report, said: "If you want to take things forward, you have to understand the more complex picture, and you have to provide support for staff who are dealing with these issues."

The network may commission more detailed research into BME participation.

It will also help staff by sharing good practice and offering seminars, advice and training.

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