Action needed for black students

Posted on January 24, 2011 By Trudy Simpson

Universities may need to use affirmative action claims leading think tank

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION may be needed to get more black students into the most prestigious universities, the UK’s leading race equality think tank has suggested.

In a new report called Widening Participation and Race Equality in Higher Education, the Runnymede Trust said affirmative action could be one solution that could ensure race equality and wider participation by black and other minority ethnic (BME) students in the UK’s top universities.

"We do support affirmative action that is targeted and time limited," said Dr. Debbie Weekes-Bernard, senior research and policy analyst at the Runnymede Trust.

Often controversial, affirmative action, which has been widely used in the United States, often refers to preferential selection to increase the representation of minorities in areas such as employment and education from which they have been historically excluded.

Weekes-Bernard, who edited the report told The Voice: “The fact that only one black Caribbean student was accepted to study on a course at Oxford in 2009 suggests that current strategies are not working. Widening participation policies at the university level need to recognise that BME students have different higher educational experiences and not use a 'one size fits all' approach in their attempts to increase their participation in the higher education sector.”

She added: “Solutions to address unequal participation need to be more creative and they should address those who are specifically in need which includes those from poorer backgrounds, from poorly performing state schools and indeed those BME young people who are not participating equally in higher education. We should not applaud participating in higher education for participation's sake. Certain BME graduates experience high rates of unemployment and underemployment once they graduate, which suggests that what occurs once they are in university, and the types they end up going to, are not necessarily improving their life chances.”

Runnymede’s report, which contains a collection of essays from higher education and race equality experts, talks about the experience and achievement of ethnic minority university students. It also looks at possible solutions to addressing under-representation in the UK’s most prestigious universities.

The publication said that while more BME students are going into higher education, “....questions remain as to where they are studying, the extent to which they remain in university for the whole duration of the course and what the outcomes are of their time spent at university.”

It also lamented the fact that minority ethnic students are less likely than white students to go to top universities achieve a first or second-class honours qualification and find jobs after graduation.

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