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 theBlack 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”


3 thoughts on “Black Academia 1.1 (update)

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