Many things have changed in the sector since the publication of the first Race for Equality report. Universities have been able to hold on to their funding via fees, a scheme to offload personal debt onto students; colleges have been starved of funding and undergone sustained and significant organisational changes via mergers.
The numbers of students progressing to Higher Education has significantly increased, and that includes proportionate numbers of Black* to white students studying at undergraduate level – but this is alongside seeing Black students not being admitted to the most elite universities in high numbers, both universities and colleges under risk of closure, and Black students being highly vulnerable to having their qualifications trashed in the pursuit of an educational market. We have also seen shifts in student demands of their institutions, with student resistance to institutional practices as well as leading an explosion in conversations around curriculum reform.
Since our first piece of research the Equality Challenge Unit has created the Race Equality Charter mark, with ECU subsequently merging with the Leadership Foundation and the Higher Education Academy to form AdvanceHE. Race has come to the forefront in the headlines many times, although often in highly negative or damaging ways to the communities our students come from. And while the education sector has accepted the concept that there are structural issues which disadvantage students of colour, and has moved into regulating universities, universities and colleges are still struggling to understand and unpick those structural oppressions and recognise their interrelation. From the Prevent Duty to the Hostile Environment, our campuses are very different places to a few years ago.
And certain things haven’t changed at all. Education is a social good, but our institutions are shaped by their histories, and students of colour face discrimination – sometimes invisibly – as a matter of course. This means that while our educational institutions have a responsibility to create equitable learning spaces, the experts on understanding Black student experience are still (of course) Black students. Their voices need to be amplified in order to continue to drive change – hopefully transformative change – to our institutions.
The research will be undertaken in two stages. The first is this survey, which will produce comparable data to the original Race for Equality and allow us to track experiences of racism in our institutions over eight years. It allows for students of colour to discuss their experiences of learning and their institutions, and share perspectives on the mechanisms that underpin students’ lives at their colleges and universities. The second stage of the research is to have conversations with Black students to closely examine the issues have been raised in the first stage. These conversations will help to set the stage for what liberated, racially equitable learning institutions might look like, digging into the creativity of Black students to help shape a vision of the change that needs to happen in their institutions and how they can contribute to that.
It’s so important we collect as many perspectives as we can to create a rich and diverse picture of the Black student experience. The findings from this survey can push for real change on your campuses and at national level so we have provided a QR code to make it easy for you to share it on your own platforms and materials with your students. From my countless conversations across the membership I hear all too often about the struggles and barriers that students of colour face across the country – let’s now work together to make change happen.
*NUS uses ‘Black’ as an inclusive term to refer to people of African, Arab, Asian and Caribbean descent and those who self-define as Black. It is a political statement, borne out of the UK anti-racism movement that encompasses individuals who live in the UK and have a shared history of systemic exclusion, inequality and discrimination experienced because of their race.