Is institutional racism behind why ethnic minority students are more likely to feel dissatisfied?


Systemic racism, including curricula that focus on “dead white men”, is holding back ethnic minority students studying at UK institutions, said the UK’s first professor of black studies.

Speaking at a conference last week, Kehinde Andrews, an associate professor at Birmingham City University (BCU), said that university curriculum was often “overly white” and accused universities of being “no less institutionally racist than the police”, pointing out that only 60 of the UK’s 14,000 professors are black.

Speaking to the Guardian, Andrews said: “Universities produce racism … It’s only since the 1960s there have been any black or Asian people – or women – at all.”

He also argued that universities were failing to produce knowledge that challenges racism, with curriculum a key factor behind it.

In humanities subjects, for example, many of its foundations are based on the teachings of “a collection of dead white men”, and this can “actually alienate” students, putting a stumbling block in their studies.

“So if you’re reading Kant and Kant’s talking about European enlightenment and talking down about Africa and the rest of the world … it’s really difficult to get into that stuff,” explained Andrews.

He revealed that there has been a consistent “attainment gap” between white and non-white students, even among those in the latter group who tend to perform well at school.

“Something’s happening in those three or four years of education to institute the gap,” said Andrews.

Regardless of whether it’s a redbrick university or a smaller, lesser-known institution, studies frequently find that ethnic minority students tend to underperform compared to white students.

According to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), its research over the years has shown that students from ethnic minorities are more likely to drop out, less likely to achieve first and upper second class degrees, and less likely to find professional employment.

Most recently, HEFCE’s longitudinal survey of graduates found that black and minority ethnic (BME) graduates were much more likely than white students to regret their higher education-related choices, saying that in hindsight, they would have chosen differently.

In fact, out the 36,090 former undergraduates surveyed, more than one in five (21.5 percent) responded that they would have opted to do something other than a degree.

Black African students reported the highest levels of dissatisfaction, as they were 9.7 percentage points more likely than white students to say they would have chosen a different subject, in addition to being 17.6 percentage points more likely to wish they had picked a different qualification.

An HEFCE spokeswoman told Times Higher Education: “An implication of the findings is that prospective BME students may need more and better information, advice and guidance to be able to make better decisions about what and where they choose to study.”

She added that the differences in graduate satisfaction levels may also point to “issues around inclusive curricula, learning and teaching practices, a sense of belonging, and differences in social, cultural, and economic capital, which have been shown to be important in terms of differential outcomes of higher education study”.

However, there are those within academia who are trying to make a change: in the past few years, movements such as “Why is my curriculum white?” and “#DecoloniseEducation” have made waves in the UK’s higher education system, urging discussion over the issue. 

Image via Unsplash

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