Need for more opportunities for BAME university students, says leading Yorkshire academic

A leading academic in Yorkshire has called for increased efforts to ensure universities become more diverse and create equal opportunities for black, asian and ethnic minority students in higher education.

A leading academic in Yorkshire has called for increased efforts to ensure universities become more diverse and create equal opportunities for black, asian and ethnic minority students in higher education. Photo credit: PA
A leading academic in Yorkshire has called for increased efforts to ensure universities become more diverse and create equal opportunities for black, asian and ethnic minority students in higher education. Photo credit: PA

Professor Zahir Irani, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor from the University of Bradford, said it is an "opportunity in time” for institutes in the UK to take steps to address entrenched inequalities which exist within higher education.

The 51-year-old told The Yorkshire Post, inequalities had further been brought to the fore due to the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.

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“Inequalities are everywhere. They are economic, they are social, they are career based, health based, education based.

The total percentage of black academic staff stands at 1.4 per cent, in Yorkshire and the Humber, according to figures from the academic year 2018-19. Photo credit: Getty Images

"What Black Lives Matters has done is bring those tension points and those opportunities as a result very much to the fore.

"I hope that is going to be a real spur of energy across our governing bodies.”

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Professor Irani added: “The higher education sector must play a role in trying to encourage and create the opportunities while being held to account to make sure universities are a good representation of our society.”

Professor Zahir Irani, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor from the University of Bradford.

Analysis by Yorkshire Universities, a group representing 12 institutions in the region, for this newspaper showed black students made up just three per cent of the region’s total student population of 196,000, according to figures from the academic year 2019-20. While the total percentage of black academic staff stands at 1.4 per cent.

Professor Irani said: “These numbers are small.

"Our students need to have role models and look at their teachers and they need to see diversity and draw some sort of inspiration and motivation.

“It’s looking in the mirror and one day thinking that could be me.

“That’s a big statement to make but it has to start by being able to have open conversations."

The University of Bradford is bucking the trend in the region in some respects for diversity as 10.5 percent of its entrants come from areas where 18/19-year-olds are least likely to enter higher education, according figures from the Office for Students for 2019-20.

The university also ranked top in England in the new Social Mobility Index university league table recently, while last year the institute was named university of the year for social inclusion by The Times/Sunday Times.

Of new entrants 62.9 percent were asian, compared to the national figure of 14.7 per cent but 6.9 per cent were black students, compared to 10.5 per cent nationally.

Professor Irani said: “We want to increase the numbers...The model needs to change because the world is changing so fast.”

Meanwhile a leading higher education organisation in the region has stressed the need for a “culture change” with-in the sector to increase diversity.

Dr Peter O’Brien, the director of Yorkshire Universities, said: “To build a more inclusive student population, action has to be driven by strong leadership, all-staff commitment and cultural change within higher education institutions.”

He added universities in the region are “working hard” to tackle the inequalities faced by BAME students and are working with local businesses and careers services to support greater employability.

A spokeswoman from the Department of Education said: "Diversity and equality is vital in higher education. Our world-leading universities are an engine of social mobility and provide life-changing opportunities for thousands of students and staff from ethnic minority backgrounds every year.

"The Government has launched the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which is reviewing disparities in outcomes, attainment and employment across a range of communities and organisations."

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