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Course materials: Do they represent the UK student population?

Course materials
Course materials do not represent the race and gender realities of the UK student population today, a new study from UCL Institute of Education has found. Source: Shutterstock

Course materials for social science and science courses in UK universities are suffering from a lack of diversity of views, a new study has found.

Academic sources and authors are too “white, male and Eurocentric”, according to researchers at the University College London. Though black, Asian or ethnic minority (BAME) students make up 39 percent of UK students, yet only seven percent of social science authors on course materials were from this community.

Dr Karen Schucan Bird, research co-author, said: “This study shows that higher education institutions and agencies need to develop coherent and consistent strategies which can move the whole sector towards programmes of study which are both more inclusive and more diverse.

“Universities also need to engage in discussions about what a ‘diverse/inclusive/decolonised’ reading list actually looks like, engaging with both staff and students to ensure clarity and commitment from all.

“Away from universities themselves, there are wider structural barriers and inequalities in knowledge production. Academic publishing needs to acknowledge their part in promoting viewpoints from the ‘Global North’ and introduce initiatives to help bring marginalised perspectives into the mainstream of academic thought.”

The study analysed 144 authors of social science papers and 146 authors of science papers included in two university reading lists. In all areas where clear conclusions could be drawn, the study found that both Social Science and Science reading lists were not representative of the student population.

Despite a postgraduate student population in which more than two-thirds (67 percent) are from abroad, nearly all (99 percent) of social science authors reviewed are affiliated to European, North American or Australasian universities. Among the science authors reviewed, nine out of ten are from European, North American or Australasian universities, far from mirroring the origin university, whereby one out of three (32 percent) were from outside the EU.

The study follows a suggestion to “decolonise” the curriculum, made last week by Kehinde Andrews, professor of black studies at Birmingham City University.

He said: “One of the things students report regularly is actually you being taught Eurocentric knowledge, about what dead white men think, isn’t just alienating to you. It’s actually damaging to you because it’s telling you you cannot think.”

Race isn’t the only area in which course materials are out of touch with reality. Females make up 66 percent of the student population, but only 50 percent of female authors are represented in the social science course materials reviewed. The gender gap is bigger in the course materials for science, where 70 percent of reviewed science authors were found to be male.

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