Mark Crawley, dean of students at the University of the Arts London (UAL), told the Race in the Creative Process event that the sector needed more discussion about the discrepancy in attainment between black and minority ethnic students.
“Higher education has a dirty little secret: white students get more firsts and 2:1s than black students – and no one even talks about it,” he said.
Detailed analysis of the figures made it clear that this applied even when differences in social class had been taken into account, he added.
“We don’t know why this is,” admitted Mr Crawley, “but we should certainly talk and disagree about it.”
The debate, which took place at the Chelsea College of Art and Design on 12 December, was organised by UAL’s Shades of Noir project, which aims to raise awareness of race issues in the art, design and communication industries.
Panellists were asked about how they dealt with their own unconscious biases, which parts of the “creative education process” should be “devoid of any race connections” and whether they saw a place for “positive discrimination”.
Fairooz Aniqa, students’ union cultural and diversity officer at UAL, put the case for trying out blind marking, to see if that had an impact on results.
She also argued that there was a role for positive discrimination in arts education as “the only way to break the nepotistic nature of the creative industries”.
Sculptor and artist Hew Locke noted that “teaching should be about encouraging people rather than making allowances for their backgrounds”.
However, he said he recognised, and often knew personally, all the black British artists listed on Wikipedia. He looked forward to the day when there were so many that a large proportion would be unfamiliar to him.