Nov 5th 2020

Diversity and inclusion across universities in the UK

Diversity and inclusion has become a hot topic in recent years. Whether it’s in the workplace or other walks of life, it is something that can no longer be ignored, including diversity in higher education. 

Official figures show that while the numbers of BAME students attending university have increased from 13% to 24.8% between 2002-2003 and 2018-2019, this is still a small number compared to the 75.2% of white students that attended university in 2018-2019. It is clear, therefore, that diversity is still a problem at universities across the UK.

The current situation across top tier universities 

Studies show that ethnic minority applications to the most selective universities are less likely to receive offers, even with the same grades as white applicants. Institutions such as Oxford attest this to the fact that applicants of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are more likely to apply for the most competitive courses than white students. The University of Oxford Admissions Report shows that between 2017 and 2019, 27.2% of applications from BAME students were for Medicine and Law compared to 11.9% of white students’ applications to the same courses. But, whilst this does offer some explanation, it doesn’t completely account for the lower offer rates from Russell Group universities.  

Our Russell Group universities are failing to create diverse and inclusive campuses, with some of them averaging an acceptance rate of less than 10% for applications submitted by BAME students. It has even become evident that universities such as Durham and Exeter have become less diverse over the past three years. In 2017, there was an intake of 87.8% white applicants to Exeter which rose to 87.9% in 2019, showing a year-on-year fall in the proportion of accepted BAME students. This is in stark contrast with the universities where BAME students end up studying. 

The universities where BAME students study

A quarter of all BAME students study at thirty universities compared to an institutional average in the UK of 16%. Of these thirty, the most diverse five include: 

  1. University of Westminster 
  2. Kingston University 
  3. City, University of London 
  4. Middlesex University 
  5. University College London

Whilst this shows there are still opportunities out there for BAME students to attend university on a more equal basis, the problem is that these universities are not the ones that catch the eye of some key employers and city firms. This focus from big corporations on Oxbridge and Russell Group universities, where there is a clear lack of diversity, puts BAME students at a disadvantage. They become overlooked by no fault of their own because this “elite” group is failing to admit students from all backgrounds on an equal and fair basis. 

So what can we do?

Firstly, there needs to be a wider acknowledgment and sense of respect for the universities that BAME students study at, along with greater promotion for their value. 

Secondly, the measure of social mobility needs to be scrapped. Under the current system, the contribution of schools to social mobility is measured by the number of pupils whom a school or college sends to Oxbridge or the Russell Group universities. This will encourage a greater focus to be placed on students of all backgrounds whatever their choice of university. 

And thirdly, there needs to be a wider range of subjects that meet the admissions criteria for all university courses. The admissions criteria are often narrowly focused in terms of subjects studied at A-level. This ultimately leads to students with more vocational qualifications, which includes a large proportion of BAME students, being overlooked. 

Overall, it is clear that there needs to be a contextualised admissions process that takes into account that applicants will have come from an array of backgrounds, and therefore have had different circumstances and opportunities. With a reduced focus on school attainment as an indicator of ability, there will be room for greater acceptance of students within the BAME group. Tie this in with big corporations not only focusing on students from the top tier universities, and we could see an increase in diversity and inclusion on university campuses with equal opportunities.