ASPIRE programme successfully supports a new cohort of black students into research

More than 40 students from a black background have graduated from a programme set up to help tackle inequality in research and encourage diversity at doctoral-level study.

The third cohort of students to undertake the ASPIRE (Accomplished Study Programme in Research Excellence) programme were celebrated at an event at Sheffield Hallam University.

The programme is a four-year research project led by Sheffield Hallam University in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University and Advance HE, aiming to address the underrepresentation of black and black heritage research students.

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The event featured a keynote address by Professor Jason Arday, the youngest black person to be appointed as a Professor at Cambridge University. Senior university leaders, including the Vice-Chancellor, were also in attendance. The celebration also welcomed several notable guests, including Professor Charles Egbu, Vice Chancellor of Leeds Trinity University and Alison Lowe, Deputy Mayor for West Yorkshire Policing and Crime.

The third cohort of the ASPIRE programmeThe third cohort of the ASPIRE programme
The third cohort of the ASPIRE programme

The event marked a significant milestone for the mentorship program, which has guided 59 students to date, with 13 participants securing fully funded PhD positions.

Jerome Smith, who was one of the 2024 cohort, said: “Through ASPIRE, I learned that I do belong in research and improved my confidence. I now understand the freedom and opportunities a PhD offers and the power it holds. I recognise that I represent not only myself but every student who looks like me and aspires to achieve. Ultimately, ASPIRE has set me on this path and provided opportunities I would have missed.”

Rosie Archibald-Darcy, who also completed the programme, said: “These past six months with ASPIRE have been transformative. Juggling work, family, and health, being part of the ASPIRE community has been the highlight of this period. I've gained invaluable education and personal and professional development.”

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Programme Lead and Principal Investigator of the ASPIRE programme, Dr Francis Awolowo, said: “It is an honour to nurture and support Black scholars through the ASPIRE program, marking a significant milestone in our collective journey. Empowering Black individuals to pursue doctoral education is a profound blessing. With ASPIRE, we envision a future with increased representation of Black researchers in UK higher education, a future that is more diverse, inclusive, and inspiring.”

The ASPIRE programme is one of many ways Sheffield Hallam is achieving its vision of A Culture of Inclusion. This means creating a diverse, inclusive and welcoming environment in which everyone feels they belong, irrespective of background or identity.

Professor Liz Mossop, Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, said: “It was an honour to speak at the ASPIRE showcase event, to a packed room of inspirational individuals. I reminded everyone that whilst there is much to celebrate, with the huge success of the ASPIRE programme in beginning to address the underrepresentation of black and black heritage students in research, there is still a long way to go in our equity and equality ambitions. It was a timely event, with the release last week of the Sheffield Hallam EEDI framework, where we clearly set out our ambition for the University around equity and diversity. Institutional and individual allyship is a key part of this.”

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