Black Academia 1.1 (update)

Last summer I uploaded a blog post called Black Academia, which outlined the state of staff and students of African heritage (which for the purposes of this blog I term as Black) in UK academia. This is what I concluded:

 Black students are over-represented in general, but especially – and perversely – in less prestigious institutions. They are significantly under-represented when it comes to high attainment and career progression.  Black academics are under-represented in general, and they are acutely under-represented at higher levels of management and leadership. … While academia has opened its doors, it has been unwilling or unable to dismantle the norms, networks, and practices that reproduce white, rich male privilege in the first place.

Just recently I looked at this year’s ECU Equality in higher education report (2014) with data from the 2012/13 academic year. For my previous post I used a lot of data from ECU’s 2013 report (from the 2011/12 academic year). I was curious as to what changes the statistics might reveal, over the course of a year. Obviously only so much can change within one year. But I was curious nonetheless. Here’s what I found.


Reparations conference, 2014, at Queen Mary University of London, organized by Rastafari Movement UK

There are now slightly more Black people working in UK academia; and this, combined with a shrinkage in the total number of staff, has raised the percentage of Black workers from 2.10% (in the last ECU report) to 2.24%. However, in terms of UK-national staff, the percentage is almost exactly the same as last time: 1.75%. Out of the total population of Black staff, both UK-national and non-national and including “mixed” people who identify as such, 41.1% have a “Caribbean” background, and 51.0% have an “African” background, with the remainder categorised as “other” Black. These figures are also almost exactly the same as last time. (As was the case in the last blog I am only including data on the Black category and not including “mixed” where it is not broken down into more specifics).

At 3.3% of the UK population, Black people remain, then, under-represented in staff positions across the university system. In fact, the percentage of white staff has grown. Last time, I calculated that white staff were 84.27% of the working population of academia compared to 86% of the UK population as a whole. Now white staff are 88.6% of the working population in academia. Last time, I calculated that if Black staff were to be represented on the same equitable basis as white staff (who had a differential of .97 between general population and academic work force), then Black staff would have to make up 3.2% of the working population of academia instead of their actual 2.10%. This time round, the differential for white staff is 1.03. Hence, the equitable percentage of Black staff would need to be 3.39% instead of the current 2.24%. 

Black people now constitute 1.2% of UK-national academic professionals: that’s a rise from last time of 0.1%. Which I guess is better than a fall of 0.1%. This is still, though, the smallest percentage of academics out of the working population of any ethnic group including white, although not far off the Chinese figure of 1.3%. Black people constitute 1.61% of both UK-national and non-national academics. This is an increase of .07% from the last report. But to put this increase in perspective: at this rate it would take 24 years for Black academics to become proportionally representative – i.e. to reach 3.3% of the academic population so as to match the percentage of Black people resident in the UK.  Yet this exercise does not take into account the growth rate of the Black population of the UK. So I wonder if, at this small rate, we would ever reach parity, at least in my lifetime. Alternatively, white people constitute 87.23% of academic professionals and remain overrepresented at 86% of the UK population.

In this latest report the ECU has changed its categorisation of academics workers and “cleaners, catering assistants, security officers, porters and maintenance workers” seems to have been replaced with “elementary occupations”. Hence direct comparisons are not really possible. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to note that in the last report, 6.91% of white workers in academia were “cleaners, catering assistants etc.” in contrast to 19.27% of Black workers. While in this report, 6.2% of white workers are employed in “elementary occupations” in contrast to 17.8% of Black workers.

So the upshot is that: Black people remain significantly under-represented in academic roles and significantly over-represented in manual jobs.

The lastest ECU report no longer breaks down the different types of academic job contracts beyond the BME category. In other words, the report no longer investigates job types by reference to Black, Asian, Chinese etc. Hence it is no longer possible to assess the change in percentages of Black academics in full time, part time, research or teaching only contracts. This is a great shame. And I am dissapointed with the ECU. Surely they most know that the BME category conceals more than it illuminates?

It might be interesting at this point to add an observation that I did not make last time. As a lecturer in International Politics I am especially interested in non-SET subjects (i.e. the social sciences, humanities and arts, as opposed to Science, Engineering and Technology). Incidently, Black students are the only ethnic minority group who are represented in non-SET subjects more than in SET ones. Within non-SET disciplines, anthropology, area studies and the classics have the least amount of UK-national Black academics – hardly any. Following them are theology, philosophy, politics and international studies, history and continuing education. For non-national Black academics, classics is the worst, then politics and international studies, continuing education and music/dance/drama/performance.

The now infamous statistic of 85 Black professors in UK academia – yes just 85 –  that’s right, 85 – remains exactly the same in the new ECU report! These professors are spread equally across SET and non-SET subjects. Black academics still have by far the smallest percentage of professors amongst any ethnic group. But the picture has got even worse when it comes to academics occupying senior management roles. Last time round, there were just 15 Black academics in senior management roles. Now there are reported only 5.

– You read it correctly, it’s not a typo.

— Just 5 Black academics in senior management roles across the whole of UK academia.  Seriously.

How about the filthy lucre? Across UK-national and non UK national staff, 29.2% of white academics make over 50,000GBP, roughly the same as last time. But the number of Black staff earning above 50K is down from 17.7% to 14.2%. The median salary for UK-national Black academics is 40,834GBP, while white academics pull 44,607GBP.  Black academics remain behind all other ethnic groups, except for “mixed”, in terms of their wages. Finally, UK-national Black academics have the largest gender differential amongst all ethnicities including white: 60.6% are women; I wonder if this is at least something to do with these earning differentials.

Overall, then, when it comes to staff, the new ECU report suggests that over a year Black academics have enjoyed an extremely modest – but positive – increase in presence, but quite possibly have suffered a decrease in position and power. This is why Black academics – and UK academia in general – need now, more than ever, initiatives like the Black Studies AssociationBlack British AcademicsBlack Doctoral Network (UK) and other institutional-building initiatives.

Ok, let’s now look at the situation with students.

 NUS Black Students Conference 2015 (NUS use the term Black in an expansive way to enable an intersectional constituency)

Starting with undergraduates, Black students now make up 6.3% of the UK-national student population in Britain, up from 6.0% in the last report. In England, Black students make up 7.2% (up from 6.9%) and amongst first year students 6.7% are Black.  So the more-than-a-decade long increase in Black students continues as does the significant overrepresentation relative to the broader Black population of the UK (3.3%). 4.4% of Black students have an African continental heritage, 1.3% a Caribbean heritage, and 0.3% an “other” Black heritage. This would suggest, when looking at the last report, that the increase in Black students is primarily coming from those with a Continental heritage, which also reflects the broader changing composition of the UK Black population.

Incidently, within non-SET subjects, history, philosophy, combined studies and languages attract the least amount of Black undergraduate students, although we would have to break down the ECU category of “social studies” to get a proper picture.

Happily, the number of Black masters students also continue to be overrepresented visavis the Black population of the UK. And Black research students have slightly grown to now provide an exact parity with the broader Black population of the UK at 3.3%. However, the percentage of Black research students enrolled in part-time study has increased from 46.2% to 47.8% (still by far the largest percentage of part-time research students amongst any ethnic group). This suggests that as the Black research student constituency grows, it does so primarily via part-time study. In the last blog I detailed why this is an important observation: part-time research students find it hard to build networks and translate their PhDs into full time research-positions.

What happens to UK-national undergraduates at the end of an academic year? In the new ECU report, 92.2% of white students continue to the next year, 1.5% transfer institutions and 6.4% leave higher education. In comparison, 86.4% of Black students continue, 4% transfer and 9.6% leave. By contrast to the last ECU report: very slightly more Black students are now continuing (good news); slightly more Black students are transferring (suggesting, I would say, little change in attitudes to diversifying institutional culture); and less Black students leave (great news). With regards to this last statistic it might be interesting to note that less Black students with Caribbean heritage leave compared to last year’s report; alternatively, more Black students with Continental heritage leave compared to the last report. Nevertheless, it remains the case that more Black students transfer than any other ethnic group except for Bangladeshi, and the percentage of Black students leaving higher education remains significantly higher than any other ethnic group.  

Here are the latest comparisons for end of degree attainments for UK-national undergraduates, focusing on white and Black students:

Class                      Group               % of group attaining award

1st class:                white women          20.3

1st class                 black women          7.4

1st class                 white men               20.6

1st class                 black men               7.7

2:1 class                white women          54.5

2:1 class                black women         41.3

2:1 class                white men              50.6

2:1 class                black men              36.4

Compared to last year’s report, the percentage of women and men achieving first class honours (1st) has risen for both white and Black students. However, Black women have increased their achievement of upper second class honours (2:1) by 3% from last year and Black men by 1%, while the percentage of white women and men attaining 2:1s is effectively the same as last year. This is a bit of good news in so far as it means that the significnat differential of attainment between white and Black students has decreased by a small amount. 

Yet the overall difference remains stark: 74.7% of white female students achieve either a 1st or 2:1 compared to 44.1% of Black female students; 71.2% of white male students achieve either a 1st or 2:1 compared to 44.1% of Black male students. This statistic is crucial because key graduate employers will only look at students with these achievements, not those who fall below – i.e. 2:2s and 3rds. If everything remains as it is, if white students do not increase their percentage of 1sts/2:1s and Black students continue to increase theirs at the current rate of 3.6% a year, then it will still take roughly eight years for Black students to obtain parity. That’s eight generations of finalists going out onto the job market with an attainment record, like it or not, differentiated across race lines. And of course, it is by no means the case that this increase will continue on its own accord at a rate that has only been sustained for 3 years so far. This is especially so if the race equality agenda continues to be dismissed, nay ridiculed, by the current Conservative administration which is otherwise obsessed with austerity.

Two final observations on attainment. 

Firstly, there has been a lot of talk about the closing of the attainment gap at school and significant improvement in Black student achievement. The achievements of children from a Continental African heritage are especially remarked upon.  It could be, perhaps, that African Continental parents have relatively more capital (social, economic etc) to invest in their students’ education as recent arrivants than their African Caribbean counterparts. (Although the latter fought exactly the same battles with similar social capital forty odd years ago). Yet, regardless, the undergraduate attainment rates of Caribbean and Continental heritage students are almost the same. In fact, in last year’s report, Continental students outperformed Caribbean students in attaining 1sts, but in this year’s report these attainments are on a par (both groups are within 0.1% of each other). And this year Caribbean students attain 2.5% more 2:1s than their continental counterparts, 1% less 2:2s and 1.4% less thirds. In short, Black students of Caribbean heritage are, relatively speaking, doing as well if not better than Black students of Continental heritage. We know that education is one of the key facilitators of social mobility in the UK.  So could it be that university is a key site wherein the social advantages of continental African children are being neutralised or reversed? Institutional racism is, after all, the great equaliser: Black is black is black. Perhaps we can see this struggle between migrant parents’ social capital and the insertion of their children into structures of racial inequality in the following statistic: upon leaving university more students of continental African heritage than those of African Caribbean heritage enter into full time postgraduate study; however, more students of continental African heritage enter unemployment than their African Caribbean counterparts.

The second observation is this. Amongst ethnic minority groups, Black students still exhibit the lowest attainments. Even if there has been an increase by Black students, it has been matched by, for example, increases in Asian student attainment (which is the second lowest to Black students). I am of course happy that Asian students are increasing their attainment, as I would be for any individual student. Nevertheless, I want to point out, as uncomfortable as it is, that those insipid intra-minority hierarchies seem to be at least partly remaining, even if small improvements are generally occurring.

Attainment issues also speak to the distribution of students amongst the uneven landscape of higher education institutions. I want to say, straight away, and reflecting on the comments of Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the Million+ think tank, that I do not personally believe that you will necessarily get a better education at a Russell Group university – recognised by government and industry as the most prestigious group of academic institutions in the UK-  than at, say, a Million+ university – one of the least prestigious recognised groups. This economy of prestige directly relates to career prospects and, to my mind, is really all about the reproduction and transference of inherited privilege rather than acting as the mark of an excellent education. But for this very reason it is important to look at the distribution of students across these groups of institutions.

Black students remain at the same percentage of the whole student population in Russell Group universities: 2.7% in last year’s and this year’s report. Whilst this figure might not seem a million miles away from the 3.3% of Black people in the UK population, we need to remember the overrepresentation of Black students in the academy, especially at undergraduate level (6.3% of the whole). Once this overrepresentation is remembered, the Russell Group figure is by no means as positive as it appears to be. Moreover Black students have increased their presence in all university groups except the most prestigious Russell Group. And the least “prestigious” Million+ group have the highest percentage of Black students at 11.9% of the population (the highest percentage of all ethnic minorities in this group). Overall the Russell Group – the most prestigious – remains the whitest (at 82.8% of the student population), and the Million+ – the least “prestigious” – remains the least whitest (73.6%).   This all suggests that the increase in Black student numbers is being served by the least “prestigious” universities. This would then qualify the success on attainments being made by Black students if they are proportionally more likely to obtain a 1st from a Million+ university than from a Russell group university. And again, I am not talking about the actual substance of the education but the economy of privilige it is embedded within.

One more thing to add to this mix. Black students have the highest amount of mature students than any other ethnic group including white, and significantly so. And again, Black students have the highest percentage of women.  So here, age, gender, race, institution and socio-economic privilege intersect.

How do all these intersections play out in terms of life immediately after university? 59.1% of white students find full employment after graduating compared to 49.5% of Black students. Both percentages have increased since last year’s report, but by pretty much the same amount, although there is a slight narrowing of the differential. More worringly, 5.2% of white students enter unemployment compared to 12.1% of Black students. Again, both these percentages have decreased since last year’s report, and again, there is a slight narrowing of the differential. A bit of positive news. Yet the difference still remains stark, and is consonant with wider disparities concerning minority youth employment.

So for Black students the gap has narrowed very slightly, but student outcomes and experience remain solidly and starkly differentiated along race lines that reproduce existing privileges. 

To finish, though, I want to point to one more invisible outcome for Black – and I would say many ethnic minority – students. A university education is supposed to be an experience and not just an “outcome”, that is, a process of critical reflection and clarification of one’s self and one’s place in the world at large. How many of our Black students find their years at university delivering them the absolute opposite? How many find a world painted white, a world that they are therefore effectively barred from investing in by the institutionally racist cultures of university? How many leave with a distaste and distrust of institutions that are supposed to enable and cultivate a civic life for all? How many of our academic colleagues even imagine that this might be taking place under their very noses?

 Afewerk Tekle’s 1967 “”African Heritage”


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More notes for discerning travellers

A little while ago I wrote a blog, Notes on Europe and Europeans for the Discerning Traveller. It was a fictional travel guide, but with all points speaking to historical realities.

What is it about a certain “European” sensibility? Not all people who live in European countries have it, of course, but this sensibility seems to define in the main what it means to be essentially “European”). I want to ask: what is it about a sensibility that can never, ever, look at itself, for itself, and in relation to what it does to others?

We all know that the European enlightenment was supposed to be built upon the pillars of self-reflection and accountability in thought and politics. It is funny, then, that the “European” so rarely seemed to be able to hold him/herself to reflexive account especially over European colonial pasts.

It continues.

I swear, if I believed in such a cosmology called “Modernity” I’d be calling the “European” a backward, traditional native ensconced in his/her own culture, taking his particulars for mystical universals, and unable to look at him/herself in the mirror to start the process of socialization and “childhood development”.

But I don’t believe. So I’ll just have to call this sensibility by more mundane descriptions, such as un-reflexive, un-accountable, un-relational.

Example (twitter response to my Travel Notes blog):

Feb 25

@X @RobbieShilliam The intellectual’s version of Boko Haram.

Ok, that just made me giggle. Must have seen my dreadlocks. I was tempted to add that response to my Travel Notes. It almost carried on writing itself.

And then this response:

  1. X    Feb 28

@RobbieShilliam Would it be any different if someone wrote on Asia and Asians (or Africa and Africans) for European discerning travellers?:)

  1. Robbie Shilliam‏   Mar 1

@X yes it would. This is specifically about Europe and it’s colonial pathologies, one of which is avoidance of its pathologies!

  1. X Mar 1

@RobbieShilliam But it sounds as if European were intrinsically greedy and evil, and the rest were noble human beings dedicated to goodness

  1. Robbie Shilliam‏@RobbieShilliam  Mar 1

@X I didn’t say anything about the rest. Your projection. All the statements have truth behind them.

All quiet on the Northern front.

Until just now (same tweeter):

  1. 2h2 hours ago (19th April)

BBC News – South Africa anti-immigrant violence: Hundreds held … Who is to blame on this, @RobbieShilliam? 😉

  1. Robbie Shilliam‏@RobbieShilliam  2h2 hours ago

@X why ask me? I am not a south Africa expert.

  1. X 1h1 hour ago

@RobbieShilliam Sadly, racism and xenophobia are not exclusive of white people: they are a human (and ape) disease. No need to be an expert!

  1. Robbie Shilliam‏@RobbieShilliam  57m57 minutes ago

@X that’s your obsession X not mine. I never said those were exclusive to white peep. Ask yourself why u are defensive. 

Over the last eight years, one experience I have constantly had, mostly in the academic world it has to be said, is people from a very strong “modernity” (read, partially, “European”) perspective (variously articulated) consistently interpreting my work as “essentialist”, “nativist”, “racialist”.

All my work in this time period – ALL of it – is about cultivating deep relationality required to heal the wounds of colonialism. Isn’t that a global concern?

I have to ask myself: why can’t these people see my relationality? It’s not a matter of me writing badly. I own up to when I do that. But this is on a different level. It’s a wilful un-reading.

Case in point: I finish a paper which is engaging with but sympathetically criticising the Communist Manifesto on the grounds of its use of the slave analogy but at the same time consigning real-living enslaved Africans to the distant past of political economy. I finish by saying (pithily, I admit), “Forward, then, to a Manifesto coloured human”.

Respondent: Is worried about my engagement with Marcus Garvey in the paper. What do I want to replace the Manifesto with? (Computer code: do you want to replace class with race, Marx with Garvey?) My last sentence!!! LAST sentence!!! THE LAST SENTENCE!!! I don’t want to replace it at all. I want to reckon with it fully. Is that unclear? Did I say, “forward only to Marcus Garvey?” Or, “Forward to a new manifesto written by blacks only for blacks… in black ink, on black paper”?

Neither is it about people agreeing with me. There are plenty of grounds of disagreements and I really don’t mind them – I usually love them and learn from them. But it’s beyond disagreement through a dialogue. There was no dialogue!

As Gurminder Bhambra puts it in this blog, I have engaged with the Hegels, Kants, etc, the intellectual folk of the “European” culture. But their avatars never engage with my folk. They have an epistemological stereotype in their head – Fanon will tell you where they got it from – and then they respond to a stereotype.

Who is accountable? Who is self-reflexive? Who is seeking to cultivate relations? If I decide that I don’t want to waste any more energies on a conversation with a wall, then I guess it will be my “essentialism” that will have been the cause of my retreat.

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Four quick paradoxes of the welfare state for Black communities

1) The welfare state was supposed to provide universal provision but was never extend to British subjects outside of the UK. However, British subjects in colonial territories were just as much subjects to the crown as those resident in the UK.

2) The era where, in large part due to the welfare state and the ethos of public goods, social mobility was most pronounced in the UK (late 60s, early 70s) was also the era of the proliferation of violent and visceral racism and entrenched institutional racism in public and private institutions.

3) In the 80s, funding the ethos of public goods allowed for the development and expression of community initiatives, especially with the Black community through Ken Livingstone’s GLC. It was a golden era, in this respect, despite being a high point of the battle against the BNP and far right.

4) The end of the ethos of public good, and the massive diminishment of the welfare state has done nothing to dampen institutional racism, and now visceral racism is on the rise again.

Welfare and social mobility did not get rid of racism. Welfare provided for an opportunity to fund provisions to ammeliorate racism. The material basis for ammelioration has now diminished and is disappearing fast. But a return to an ethos of “public goods” will not in and of itself get rid of racialised inequalities and discriminations. No triumphal leftist narrative is possible for Black communities – nor was it ever – when it came to the welfare state. How can we re-make the relationship of public goods to racism for a better tomorrow?

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RasTafari and reparation time

I’ve just published a little piece about the August 1st reparation march through London on OpenDemocracy.

You can access it here:

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Exhibit B

Here’s my take on the Exhibit B furore that has been going on at the Barbican.

  • I recognise that art is the exemplary expression of the stunning multiplicity of human experience.
  • I recognise that slavery and colonialism is everyone’s history and that everyone should be ethically and politically invested in critically attending to its contemporary manifestations especially in terms of racism, visceral and structural.
  • I recognise that the issues implicated in Exhibit B are difficult and complicated, and that you could be black, critical, and still support the exhibit without being a sell-out to white supremacy.
  • I have also supported and celebrated what are on the face of it similar installments such as Teresa María Díaz Nerio’s Hommage à Sara Bartman which critically engages with one of the  “original” and most heinous “human zoos” of colonial rule.

So why do I firmly support in principle (if not in every point expressed) the opposition to Exhibit B articulated by Kehinde Andrews, Akala, Sarah Myers and others?

The core issue, for me, is about the structural power of representation, that is, who enjoys the institutional support through which they can, on the public stage, represent racial experiences, especially in terms of oppression and dehumanization.

In the UK this issue of representational power is especially crucial to grapple with because its art industry is not just hegemonically white in terms of ownership, directorship and funding but has got even more white in these regards over the last number of years, especially after efforts to create a self-directed Black arts world were largely defeated in the 1990s. Where, we might ask, is the vibrant Black arts world in a multicultural UK? I do not mean individual artists – there are many fine Black artists of all kinds. But I mean an arts world that is able to direct itself and can set its own agendas including its own disagreements?

It is a suprious argument to say that the personal background of the curator or director – i.e. his race, colour, gender, sexuality, nationality, class  and the combination of all these elements – is of no importance. After all, isn’t  the very purpose of Exhibit B to personalise the experience of the audience in order to sensitise them to issues of racism and colonialism? For that to work, it must mean that who you are and what lived experiences you bring are crucial ingredients to the succesful cultivation of this particular piece of art.

Two provocations are therefore forthcoming.

First, I support  Nerio’s Hommage and not  Bailey’s Exhibit because Nerio is a Black artist who is directing, setting the agenda and performing a critique of the racial gaze on African women. This is a different kind of power that is implicated in artistic critique to that exercised by Bailey, regardless of whether or not Bailey is sincere in his endeavours, which I take as for granted that he is. This is not to say, of course, that you couldn’t critique Nerio’s  Hommage; but the point is that you couldn’t critique it on the basis that it shared an equivalence with Bailey’s Exhibit: different executions of power are at play.

So, second, let’s cut to the chase: Exhibit B is an instillation that is addressed to white people. It is trying to conscientize white people – as white people – to their (often unconscious) complicity in systems (often global) of segregation, oppression and dehumanization. Very much like 12 Years a Slave, it is designed to first and foremost edify white people as to the deep wounds of racism and colonialism. I seriously cannot see how either Exhibit B or 12 Years a Slave was designed to edify the majority of peoples of African heritage at an existential level – that is, in terms of providing a bodily shock that reveals complicity in the same violence that shocks you. You might say that on occassion Exhibit B could even shock Black people in this way. Ok, but then I would ask you, in all honestly, do you think that these pieces of art are designed to gain their aesthetic and moneterary value primarily by shocking black bodies – or white bodies? And let’s also remember, Exhibit B is not being exhibted at the Black Cultural Archives, for example, but at the Barbican – a heartland of the British arts establishment.

And this is precisely my main problem with the Exhibit: who pays the price for white people educating white people about racism?

Chinua Achebe made this point perfectly, some years ago, in an interview with Caryl Phillips about why the celebrated Nigerian writer thought that Joseph Conrad’s “postcolonial” masterpiece, Heart of Darkness, (the book that inspired in part the film Apocalypse Now), was a piece of racism.

Phillips could not understand why Achebe could not see that Conrad’s book was a critique of European colonialism rather than a support of it. Phillips protested to Achebe that Conrad did not paint the African continent as primordially dark; his point, precisely, was to show that Europeans brought that darkness with them.

But Achebe replies that this critique or expose misses the point: this is NOT where Conrad’s exercise of racial privilige lies. Rather, the fundamental point, says Achebe, is that:

 you cannot compromise my humanity in order that you explore your own ambiguity. I cannot accept that. My humanity is not to be debated, nor is it to be used simply to illustrate European problems.”

And that:

I expect a great artist, a man who has explored, a man who is interested in Africa, not to make life more difficult for us. Why do this? Why make our lives more difficult? In this sense Conrad is a disappointment.”

This is why I think that the opposition to Exhibit B is so important. It has raised the fundamental question: who is setting the agenda for whose healing at whose cost?

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Black Bartholomew Diaz and Colonial Pedagogy

Marcus Garvey famously proclaimed:

Whilst our God has no color, yet it is human to see everything through one’s own spectacles, and since the white people have seen their God through white spectacles, we have only now started out (late though it be) to see our God through our own spectacles. The God of Isaac and the God of Jacob let Him exist for the race that believes in the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. We Negroes believe in the God of Ethiopia, the everlasting God—God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, the One God of all ages. That is the God in whom we believe, but we shall worship Him through the spectacles of Ethiopia.

This is not just a theological proclamation. It is also a pedagogical directive. A properly “liberal” education would recognize that humanity wears a plurality of spectacles. And there is nothing wrong with looking at the world  through the spectacles of Ethiopia.

On 19th December 1931, a British member of the London Missionary Society sends a report back home from Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe). He details educational activities at Hope Fountain, the missionary school he works in. He singles out a piece of historical composition by one young Black-African student, which reads:

Bartholomew Diaz is the first black man who went to a new land. He started away by sailing on the sea in West Africa; he went for many days in the sea. His servants were afraid. They said to him let us go back. They were afraid because many days they never see land. Bartholomew Diaz said to them, will you be kind let us go for few days. When they still walking the storm came blow them back where they know not where they are. He began to sail in the West Africa until they see a green land and beautiful hills. He called this land Cape of Good Storm.

There is nothing wrong with this historical report. The student presumes that the first human to “discover” and sail round the southern tip of Africa was Black. And in all probability, wasn’t that the case?

In 1488 Bartholomew Diaz, the Portuguese explorer, is tasked to seek out the ancient Christian Ethiopian kingdom of Prester John. By 1931 it is not unusual at all to come across “Ethiopian” churches in Southern Africa, that is, churches that have decided to worship God through the spectacles of Ethiopia. One year prior to this report, on November 2nd 1930, Ras Tafari has been crowned in Ethiopia as Qedemawi Haile Selassie, King of King, Lords of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah. And there is oral evidence to suggest that at the time some people in Southern Rhodesia have sighted up Selassie I as the Black redeemer featured in Revelations.

So why should this child not presume that Diaz is Black? And that Africans return to themselves? Is she not relating an African story, one that she is part of, one that she wants to make sense of for herself, one that is owned by more spectacles than white?

Everything that is wrong about colonial pedagogy – that selfish pedagogy that uses only one pair of spectacles, that pedagogy that still controls our schools and universities – is represented in the condescending comments of the missionary regarding this child’s historical comprehension:

Our old hero Bartholomew Diaz has figured in many compositions but never perhaps to greater effect than in the present one. That he should have unfortunately got mixed up with Columbus is to be regretted and we trust that the present composition will not create any bad feeling between these two great explorers in the land of shades.

Black history does not even deserve a comment.

But fear not. Those things that have been hidden from the “wise” and “prudent” have been revealed unto the babes.

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Black Academia in Britain

The last few years have witnessed a growing concern with the challenges that peoples of African heritage – Black peoples – face working and studying in the UK higher education system. Issues of the relative absence of Black people in influential positions have taken centre stage, alongside the direct and indirect discrimination that both black students and staff might confront. These are long standing issues. Indeed, for some years now, many British Black academics have made careers in North America more easily than in their domicile country. 

These challenges have been met by various recent initiatives, for example, a concerted effort to formally institute a British Black Studies and the creation of a network of Black British Academics. To repeat, concerns as to the presence and experience of Black people in British academia are by no means new. But these concerns have been re-engaged with in a new context marked by austerity, the growing internationalisation of universities, and the radical changes to the public university system in Britain implemented by the coalition government that are turning “multiversities” into “monoversities” organized singularly along the lines of commercial logic and interest.   

Having been involved in a small way in recent re-engagements with the place and standing of Black academics and staff in UK academia I thought I would take stock and look at a few recent statistical and qualitative studies that appraise the state of Black academia in Britain, from both an academic and student standpoint.  

Before I start, though, I want to say a few words about the internal composition of Black peoples in the UK. According to the 2011 Census, Black people now compose 3.3% of the population. However, the pronounced immigration over the last twenty or so of peoples from the African continent has significantly shifted the demographics and dynamics of the Black population itself. Whereas, in the 1950s to 80s, Black Britain referred primarily to the “historical” African Diaspora – mainly those from an African-Caribbean background – it now predominantly refers to a new Diaspora with a continental background.

Continental African peoples, at least those who are not coming as refugees (and that is an important qualification), have generally arrived with more capital than the historical Diaspora had, and have inserted themselves into a different socio-economic context. However, my impression is that the children of the migrating parents, if they spend their formative time in the UK, start to experience many of the same differential treatments based on racial stereotyping as their peers from the historical Diaspora have long contended with. We are already a good two generations into the making of the new continental Diaspora (although continental Africans were always present in the UK). And racism, especially of the institutional kind, is a perverse kind of leveller. 

Another point to note is the rise of the nebulous category of “mixed” (race science and ideology at its best). Interest in “mixed race” people has grown significantly, supposedly in line with the growth of this demographic. However, in relative terms, “mixed race” people have grown only by 1% as a share of the UK population. I do not want to say that this is not important, but I do think that the statistical fascination with this category of people is driven by ideology as much as anything else.

To my mind, the idea that “mixed race” people represent a triumph of multiculturalism and an inauguration of a post-racial future for Britain is quite strong. My concern is specifically to do with what I perceive as the proliferation of racial stratifications and discriminations. And to understand and chart these proliferations the category of “mixed” is, to my mind, in and of itself heuristically useless. (If you think about it carefully, how can one actually be a mixed – race? Surely it’s a plural?) For example, the child of a working-class white woman and working-class black man is going to have quite different experiences to the child of a first generation migrant black woman and a middle-class white English man.

 In other words, perhaps more so than any other ethnic category, “mixed” hides a plethora of different cultural and social capitals. There is also the issue of colour and shade that does make a difference at the level of appearance and reception, and this should not be ignored, but is entirely muted by the category.  Finally, we should also consider that many “mixed” people might mark themselves as such on a census form but would identify as Black in many other social situations. 

For all these reasons, in what follows I will at concentrate on the significance of the differences but also similarities between the experiences and status of historical and recent Diaspora, encoded imperfectly in the data as “Caribbean” and “African”. I will also differentiate UK-nationality from non-UK nationality people because I believe that at a general level the institutional racism – a consistent background hum – affects those who spend their formative years here in ways that are not necessarily experienced by those who migrate here for professional reasons later in their life. This is especially important with regards to student experience, where I will focus primarily on UK-domicile Black students.

Additionally, I will for the most part avoid statistics referring to the category of “mixed”. The analytical weakness of this category as “stand-alone” is evident in the Equality Challenge Unit’s (ECU) data, wherein the weak justification for singling out “mixed” as an “ethnicity” for the first time in its 2013 report is “due to the growing size of this group”. This begs the prior question as to on what basis was it deemed to be a distinct ethnicity in the first place. 

In what follows I am principally using the following reports: ECU Statistical Report 2010, 2013; the 2011 ECU Experience of Black and Minority Ethnic Staff in HE in England report; and the NUS Race for Equality Report 2011. I have also consulted Kalwant Bhopal and June Jackson’s Experiences of Black and Minority Ethnic Academics 2013 report, Philip Noden, Michael Shiner and Tariq Modood’s 2014 Black and Minority Ethnic Access to Higher Education: A Reassessment, and Black British Academic’s 2014 Race Equality Survey. So now I will look at issues to do with Black staff and then with Black students. I will finish with some broad assessments and provocations.

As a P.S., I am not looking into differences between SET and non-SET experiences (broadly, the natural sciences versus social sciences, humanities and arts). Much of what I will say applies to both broad groupings; however, there are differences that require useful elucidation, I will admit. I should also be honest and say that much of how I approach these issues is influenced by my working in the non-SET academic field. 





There are 7730 Black people working in UK academia. As a percentage of the 367830 workers, Black staff constitute 2.10% of the total. When it comes to UK-national staff, Black workers constitute just 1.7% of the total of all workers in higher education institutions. Even if this is a rise of 0.2% from 2010, the UK census puts the Black presence at 3.3% of the normally-resident population. Therefore Black people are significantly under-represented in the higher education workforce.

Out of the total population of Black staff, both UK national and non-national and including “mixed” people who identify as such, 41.27% have a “Caribbean” background, and 51.06% have an “African” background, with the remainder categorised as “other” Black. These percentages reflect in some way the demographic shift within the wider Black population. However, continental African staff are significantly over-represented in the non-national category. So when the percentages are worked out only for UK-national staff, Caribbean staff form the majority (52%) compared to African staff (40%). Perhaps in the next 5 to 10 years this percentage will slowly start to reflect the wider UK demographic wherein Black people from a continental African background predominate. These trends will need to be observed keenly.

Overall, though, these statistics indicate that Black people are under-represented in staff positions across the university system. White staff make up 84.27% of the higher education working population and 86% of the broader UK population. If the differential between white university staff and the broader white population is 0.97, then we would expect, all things being equal, for Black staff to make up 3.2% of the university working population. However, they make up 2.10% of that population. 

We could quibble over a 0.9% difference. And I can understand that point of view if you are a part of – or talking about – the 309,995 white workers. But if you are a minority, or talking about minorities, then the small shifts in percentages have massive effects in terms of presence and power.   

Let us now take about the different job types available in academia (e.g. academic professional, secretary, security guard, non-academic manager). Starting with UK-national staff only, Black people constitute just 1.1% of the total of academic professionals. This is the smallest percentage of any ethnic group, although Chinese are close-by with 1.2%. Even when we add together non-national and UK-national staff we find that out of a total academic professional staff of 165445, 2560 are Black, that is, 1.54%, even though they constitute 3.3% of the British population. Alternatively, white academic professionals compose 87.45% of the total and are over-represented in terms of being 86% of the broader population.  In contrast, 6.91% of white workers (both UK-national and non-national) are employed as cleaners, catering assistants, security officers, porters and maintenance workers; while 19.27% of Black staff are employed in these roles.

Thus, Black people are significantly under-represented in academic roles and significantly over-represented in manual jobs.

Let’s now move on to the differentials that ensue from the type of job contracts held. There is little difference between the relative percentage of holders of teaching-only and teaching-and-research contracts between white and Black academic staff (UK-national and non-national). And in terms of UK-national staff specifically, the relative proportion of full time to part time posts is consonant between white and Black staff at approximately 63% to 37%. However, there is relatively more Black staff on fixed term contracts (34.8%) than white staff (31.6%). What is more, within the part time category, 61.32% of Black staff are on fixed-term contracts as opposed to 53.98% of white staff.

So while both UK-national constituencies share the same percentage of full to part time staff, relatively more white academics than black academics are contracted in permanent/open positions and relatively more black academics occupy the most tenuous academic contract: the fixed-term part time

For non-UK national academic staff, these differences are a little more accentuated: 57.9% permanent/open and 42.1% fixed for white staff, compared to 51% permanent/open and 49% fixed for black staff. This difference could speak to the cultural and social capital that non-national white staff might accrue hailing largely from old British dominion countries or the US, as opposed to Black staff, some of whom might come from the same countries but many of whom would not. There has been much work done on the racist determinants of perceived geo-cultural differences regarding professional competency and comparability.

More serious disparities and under-representations exist when it comes to the relative seniority of Black academics in comparison to other ethnicities. Putting together UK-national and non-national academics, we find that 92.39% of professors (15905) in the UK are white, and 0.49% (85) professors are Black. The percentage of professors who are Black is significantly lower than for any other minority. So in both absolute and relative terms there is a massive under-representation of Black professors, especially Black women: perhaps just 15 of those 85 Black professors are women. In Bhopal and Jackson’s recent report on the experience of BME academics one such professor recounts her feelings of alienation that emanate from this under-representation: “I am always a black woman. If you look around, when I go to the professorial meetings in this university, they are dominated by men. I am the only black person there. But I am also one of a very very small number of women.”

The picture is similar when it comes to academics in senior management roles. 2.2% of white UK-national academics occupy such roles; 1.1% of Black UK-national academics occupy such roles. Let us again talk absolute numbers: just 15 Black UK-national academics occupy senior management roles. How many of them are women? I don’t know. But zero non-UK Black academics occupy such roles. None at all. And, as a percentage of both UK-national and non-national senior managers overall, Black academics constitute just 0.52%.

A significant reason for this non-representativeness relates to networks that early-career Black academics are rarely introduced into. And there are many reports of Black PhDs being neglected relative to their supervisor’s treatment of his or her white supervisees. In my limited experience, the lack of mentoring for early and mid-career Black academics is a significant issue that can only be redressed pro-actively through schemes such as the University of London’s B-Mentor project.

Whatever the reason, the extreme paucity of Black academic presence at the top – both in terms of professoriate and senior-management – also translates into salary differentials. 29.4% of white UK-national and non-national academics earn over 50,000GBP as opposed to 17.7% of Black UK-national and non-national academics. Black academics are also significantly behind all other ethnicities in terms of the percent of them who earn in this bracket.  

Presence and power are related. I would not for one moment assume that a Black person around a table of white (and other BME) people will automatically represent Black interests (whatever that might mean). In fact, the hyper-visibility that comes with being in a department where you are the only BME academic might make you feel far too vulnerable to voice any concerns about race and racism. It is not uncommon, for example, for BME academics to avoid taking part in “race groups”. Indeed, you might be worried that to be associated with a race would tend to de-professionalise you in the eyes of your colleagues: white academics are usually, simply, “academics”; Black academics are always Black, and it is not necessarily by choice.

Nevertheless, the presence of BME people around the tables of senior management can make a big difference in terms of their presence itself mitigating against some of the more thoughtless behaviour that comes with belonging to and being surrounded by a dominant group (of any kind).  This is sorely needed. For example, one institution consulted in an ECU survey declared that, because they only had a few BME staff, race was not an issue for them

The near-total absence of Black academics in senior positions reproduces particular assumptions of limited competency that accompany racial/gender stereotypes, the implicit biases of which are well documented. One of the most debilitating assumptions, in this regard, is that a professional mistake or a weakness must be due to one’s race rather than due to a simple matter of context. Because of this assumption Black academics can often suffer from over-scrutiny by senior colleagues and, like many other BME groups, can be overlooked for promotions or not encouraged to reply.

We should not ignore the fact that straightforward bullying and mentally debilitating racial harassment is not uncommon, and this seems to disproportionately affect Black women academics. Many of us will know at least one such story. It should also be noted, in this respect, that Black academics have a younger demographic than all other ethnicities including white; and amongst UK-national Black academics, women form the majority at 61.3%: this is the highest percent of women in any ethnic group including white. Youth, gender and race – any one element can feed an implicit bias of sub-competency to greater or lesser effect. Now combine them all. 

It might be no surprise to learn, then, that BME academics as a whole leave their current institution at a higher rate than their white counterparts. In 2013, 22% of BME academics left compared to 15% of white academics. Moreover, if they leave academia as a whole, BME academics are far less likely to have retired for this reason than their white counterparts and somewhat more likely to no longer be in regular employment than their white counterparts.




Many of the disparities and challenges that face Black academics also affect Black students, especially those who are UK-domicile. Let us first look at the broad demographics.

Black students make up 6% of UK-domicile students in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland combined. If we isolate England, Black students then make up 6.9% of the UK-domicile student population, and this figure in relative terms is more than double the representative percentage of Black people as part of the general population (3.3%). In fact, Black students have enjoyed the biggest increase amongst BME groups over the last decade – from 4.4% in 2003/4 to the present number. Things are looking extremely positive here.

Let’s look a little deeper, though.

4.2% of first year UK-domicile students are from a Black African background, 1.5% from a Black Caribbean background, and 0.3% are “Black other”. This raises the question as to whether the increase in Black students has come mainly through those from a Black African background, who are over-represented more than their Black Caribbean counterparts. I mention this just to suggest that the relative over-representation of Black students might not be the result of opening pathways through to university but rather due to actual or residual social capital being carried over by first generation migrant parents with aspirations of university education for their children.  

It should be said here that first generation Caribbean parents had very similar aspirations some decades ago, hence the creation of supplementary schools in the UK by Black parents who thought that their children’s education in Britain was sub-standard, not to mention racist. I wonder how the dynamic of the new constellation of Black students will work out two or three generations down the line.

Anyway, taught Masters programmes also demonstrate an over-representation of UK-domicile Black students similar to the undergraduate scene. But this is not the case at PhD level, where Black students constitute 3.1% of the UK-domicile student demographic. Still,  this percentage is very equitable indeed.

However, 46.2% of those Black PhD students are in part-time study, and this is the biggest percent by far of part-time students across all ethnic groups including white. I would therefore suggest that Black PhD students have to tackle pronounced problems in funding and paying for their studies. This can often have negative ramifications for career progression. So here we might be seeing a causal link between differentials in student experience and staff represenation amongst UK-domicile Black academics. 

This point returns us to the importance of investigating the ways in which black students, albeit over-represented at undergraduate level, face particular challenges in academia, challenges that, as we will see, seem to lead to differential attainment levels.

The first noticeable point is that Black students tend to be over-represented in less prestigious universities. Infamously, Oxford accepted just one Black Caribbean student in 2009. And the acceptance rate of Black candidates for Oxford in 2010 was 14% as opposed to 24% for white students. Just as tellingly, in recent years three universities in London have held more than half of all UK-domicile Black students: London Metropolitan, South Bank, and East London. (And 17.4% of all UK-domicile London students are Black).

Let’s take one statistic as a further example: in 2007-8 one university, London Met, accepted 6,115 black students whereas in the same year all the institutions that make up the Russell group accepted 7,815 black students. Russell Group universities should have 25,000 Black students if they are to be representative of the general population: they have, instead, in the most recent stats that I could find, only 11,000less than half of a fair representation. Incidentally, a recent NUS report noted a perception amongst BME students that they would be more likely to experience racism in a Russell Group institution. 

It is fair to say that social-economic disadvantages come into play here. Many students from a poorer background cannot afford to study away from their home. And most (but not all) prestigious institutions are not based in or sufficiently near socio-economically deprived areas. Moreover, a recent study sponsored by the LSE suggests that socio-economic barriers (the type of school attended and number of A-levels taken) account for the fact that black students are less likely to target elite institutions.

However, even with all other factors taken into account (including socio-economic) the report notes that Black African candidates (along with Bangladeshi candidates) receive on average five extra rejections per one hundred applications than white students, while Black Caribbean applicants receive three extra rejections. While we could posit that foreign-sounding names might have a part to play in discriminating against Black African applicants, this would be far less the case with black Caribbean applicants, leading to the possibility that racial stereotyping is also in effect at interview level. 

I can say, having taken part in undergraduate interview processes at Oxford for two years, and having undertaken this duty with a colleague who was genuinely and actively committed to student diversity, white-home-counties-accent-upper-middle-class-male privilege is most definitely in effect when it comes to the kind of social and cultural capital a student can wield at interview.      

London Met, South Bank and East London are fine universities in and of themselves, and I know of many fantastic scholars and students undertaking cutting-edge work in these institutions. However, in ranking systems that employers look at, these institutions feature fairly low down. The point here is not to say that Black students shouldn’t go to these institutions but to point out the inequitable nature of the clustering of Black students in such institutions as a reflection of broader sector inequalities. 

On that note, let’s look at what happens to students at the end of the year. With regards to the UK-domicile population, 91.6% of white students continue into the next year at their institution, 1.6% transfer and 6.9% leave higher education. For UK-domicile Black students the comparable figures are 85.3%, 3.5% and 11.2%. In other words, more Black students transfer from their institution and leave university all together relative to their white counterparts. In fact, Black students transfer or leave university at a higher rate than any other ethnic group. We should recall here the cognate statistics regarding BME academic staff who leave their institutions at a higher frequency than their white counterparts.

Why are Black students (just like Black staff) relatively more ill-at-ease in their institutions than white students? Well, we would certainly have to take into account personal, familial and economic factors outside of university, and I do not want to belittle these at all. However, there is a tendency for university administration – and, it has to be said, many lectures too – to point to these external factors thereby deferring any serious engagement with factors that are entirely to do with the experience that Black students have within university.

A recent NUS report brings to light some of these factors. Firstly, Black students can feel (not unlike Black academics) that differential treatment or assessment is received on account of racial stereotypes and implicit bias. Secondly, the curricula of non-SET subjects – i.e. social science, humanities and arts subjects – will rarely include in any substantive fashion Black histories, cultures, actors and thought systems. This can lead to alienation of and disinvestment in studies while, alternatively, white students (especially middle class ones) might be able to better utilise their cultural capital to invest themselves in their studies. As one Black African student put it in the NUS study: “there is a standard way of thinking that is hegemonically white”; one “mixed race” student commented upon “not being able to express or hear our own experience in learning”.

Cultural capital can be a great reproducer of inequality if institutions of privilege operate mono-culturally. In fact, 42% of BME students in the NUS study argued that the subject matter and pedagogical concerns of their modules did not take their diverse backgrounds into account. Moreover, 49% of African and Caribbean students and, interestingly, 80% of “mixed race” students wished to be involved in shaping the content of their course.

Another study found that students attending a Russell Group or pre-1992 institution were significantly more likely to argue that the material of their course was not diverse enough. And we know that it is precisely these more prestigious institutions that have the fewest Black students. The NUS study also found that perceptions of racism increase with the age of the student; and we also know that the Black student demographic is the oldest, in relative terms, of all ethnic groups including white. 

Alienating and disinvesting experiences can make university feel like a foreign territory, as commented by one Black student in the NUS survey: “I feel alone. I wonder, should I be here? Do I have a right to be here, even though I’m not an international student?” From my own experience I can say that it was not until the 2nd year of my PhD studies that I felt comfortable enough to walk slowly through the corridors of my institution rather than rush through and out of them.  I distinctly remember one evening, during my undergraduate degree, when I left my senses because I so wanted to be at university, especially in the library, but all that I could feel there was that I was in enemy territory. It wasn’t any one individual’s fault. It was the environment itself.

 A 2010 survey found that 22% of white students complained that they did not feel integrated into university social life compared to 33% of Black Caribbean and African students. Again, we might note the similarities of experiences between Black academic staff and students. And again, the university system is ill-prepared to address these problems: in an Equality Challenge Unit study in 2011, 45% of institutions surveyed admitted that there were barriers to personal development and progression in their institutions, but only 14% believed that there were any barriers specific to their BME constituencies.  

One could say that all these factors are by and large matters of perception. I often wonder how many different ways people can justify-away racism. Why is it that people of colour so often perceive racism, and white people so often rationalise these perceptions away? Is it a madness that runs in the blood? Anyhow, let’s move away from “perception” and look instead at some of the concrete differentials in attainment amongst students.

For UK-domicile students, here is a portion of the breakdown of awards:

Class                      Group               % of group attaining award

1st class:                white women          18.3%

1st class                 black women           5.7%

1st class                 white men               19.4%

1st class                 black men                6.9%

2:1 class                white women           54.7%

2:1 class                black women           38.3%

2:1 class                white men                50.1%

2:1 class                black men                35.1%

In 2013, amongst all ethnic and gender groups, Black women achieved the lowest percent of 1sts by a significant margin. This is despite Black women being relatively over-represented in the undergraduate academy. We should also remember that the Black student population possesses the highest percentage of women (59.4%) out of all UK-domicile ethnic groups including whites. Meanwhile, the percent of 1sts that Black men received was second lowest to Black women amongst all ethnicities and gender groups, and the percent of 2:1s that Black men received was the lowest amongst all ethnicities and gender groups.

 Interestingly, the differences between Caribbean and African UK-domicile students was not so great. Caribbean students obtained marginally less 1sts than African students, yet Caribbean students obtained marginally more 2:1s than African counterparts. I would propose that this statistic might be picking up the effect of the perverse equalisation of racism that affects youth from migrant families who spend their formative years in Britain.

One might say, however, that we would need to look at the academic level that Black students started with in order to judge the “value-added” of their final attainments. For, if the academic starting point is lower than the norm, then perhaps Black students have achieved quite a lot in relative terms, if they are achieving, on average, 2:2s and some are hitting 2:1s and a few 1sts. While I do not want to dismiss this important point of contextualisation, I think that it can once more play into a deferral of engagement with institutional racism. The issue is not so much the point itself but if the point is accompanied by an avoidance of the fundamental purposes of the university system in the UK.

The Robbins Report of 1963 laid out the purposes of higher education as a sector opened, for the first time, to the masses of the people . Amongst other items, the Robbins Report presented the university as fit-for-purpose if it was acting as an institutional leveller of life chances. That is, contemporary university in the UK is supposed to nullify, as much as is possible, previous socio-economic privileges so as to allow for a genuine meritocratic playing field to emerge out of an extremely stratified society, a field upon which young people can launch their adult lives through their own abilities and efforts.

There is something seriously wrong in the very functioning of the university system, then, if it is reproducing privilege or even extending and deepening privilege as an outcome of undergraduate study.  The 2010 Browne Report, which announced the start of significant transformations to the UK university system currently being undertaken by the coalition government, does not focus on the issue of social justice at all. It does, however, embrace a further opening of university governance to market logics. Hence, I would argue that we are in a worse situation now in these regards than we were before 2010

Furthermore, the re-production of privilege within the public university system articulates with the re-production of disparities of life chances post-university. After finishing their degree, 56.5% of UK-domicile white students find full time employment compared to 45.4% of Black students. Both these figures are up roughly 3% from 2010, which is good, but the disparity between them has remained almost exactly the same.

Moreover, 6% of white students find themselves unemployed compared to 14.6% of Black students – a significant disparity. These figures confirm other investigations that have revealed a disproportionate percentage of young Black people have been suffering unemployment due to austerity measures, and that there is a greater tendency among young Black people for the jobs that they do get to be part time or contract. However, slightly more Black students, as a relative percentage, re-enter full time study than white students; perhaps this is in part due to the adverse job market that many experience.

It is important to also look at the different leaving experiences within the Black student population. 35% of UK-domicile Black Caribbean leavers land a full-time professional job, and this is the same as the percentage of Black African leavers. However, a greater percentage of Black Caribbean leavers land a part-time job (18.7%) as opposed to Black African leavers (13.2%). And a greater number of Black African students go back into full-time study (13.8%) in comparison to black Caribbean (10.1%). But notably, a significantly greater percentage of Black African leavers are unemployed (16.2%) compared to Black Caribbean (10.3%).  This last point might pertain to the visibility of “foreign-sounding” names on CV applications and the demonstrated prejudice that accompanies these names in the minds of employers.

These observations suggest that while both Black Caribbean and African students disproportionately experience a blocking or arresting of their careers as opposed to white counterparts, these experiences tend to manifest for Black students in different ways and perhaps for different reasons





In sum, Black students are over-represented in general but especially – and perversely – in lessprestigious institutions. They are significantly under-represented when it comes to high attainment and career progression.  Black academics are under-represented in general, and they are acutely under-represented at higher levels of management and leadership.

To my mind, these basic findings reflect a simple story:  Black people in Britain have fought long and hard to get proper access to institutions that they are supposed to be entitled to. They have had to overcome and dismantle the barriers to progress through their own hard work. Nothing was given to Black people free in Britain. Everything was struggled for. They succeeded in opening up academia, no doubt as part of the wider race, class and feminist movements against the hierarchies of British society that entrench white, rich male privilege and dominance.

However, while academia has opened its doors, it has been unwilling or unable to dismantle the norms, networks, and practices that reproduce white, rich male privilege in the first place. The replacement in many university strategic plans of “social justice” with the “internationalization of everything” is testimony to the dissonance that exists between the principles of open access and the realities of institutional privilege. Disparities entrench themselves first and foremost at a domestic and local level. If you need to leap-frog over these levels to the global market in order to attain your diversity quotas then you are avoiding any serious engagement with this dissonance. You will not be fit-for-purpose in the eyes of the Robbins Report. But tragically, the newer Browne Report will judge you to be entirely fit-for-purpose.

I want to finish by telling an ordinary story of Black academics and students.

Like most of their colleagues and peers, Black academics and students want to be challenged, and to enjoy the challenge. They want to feel comfortable in university because it should be their place too. They want to be treated through a genuinely meritocratic calculus. They want to study what they think is of value and importance, and they want to address lacunae in knowledge that they believe to be significant. They would like to utilise their own diverse experiences, networks and knowledges as social and cultural capital. Most would want to use this capital to facilitate their own achievements; some mighte even want to use it to suture the wounds that they have collectively experienced; and all would expect their capital to enrich the general store of human knowledge. They don’t want people to experience cognitive dissonance when they meet a Black expert on – or enthusiast of – French philosophy or Russian literature.  But they also don’t want to be seen as any less worldly if they wish to academically concentrate on Black studies and, heavens forbid, matters of racism. Basically, they want to live a considered life, like any other intellectual.

Black academics and students are entirely ordinary. What makes them exceptional is only the racism that they encounter in the course of their ordinary pursuits. 


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