Reece Parker: Tackling racism in higher education

STUDENTS: University applications made by black students more likely to be investigated for fraud, according to new findings. PIC: PA
STUDENTS: University applications made by black students more likely to be investigated for fraud, according to new findings. PIC: PA
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Black students seeking a university place through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) are 21 times more likely to have their applications investigated regarding suspected false or missing information than white potential students.

Out of the 42,580 black applicants who used the service last year, 419 were investigated for fraud.

In contrast, 181 out of 388,465 white British applicants were investigated over the same period.

For black applicants, one in every 102 cases were investigated, for white British students, one in every 2,146 prompted further interrogation.

These findings have prompted deserved alarm and criticism from those in government.

Angela Rayner, shadow education secretary, stated: “This shocking practice highlights just how pervasive institutional racism is across the higher education sector. UCAS has been completely unable to justify this discriminatory practice.

“UCAS must urgently investigate this and make clear what steps will be taken to end the racial profiling of students.” This was a sentiment echoed by Labour MP David Lammy, who suggested that “the evidence suggests that unconscious bias may well be a factor.”

Helen Thorne, external relations director of UCAS, maintained that “I am not aware of any way really that unconscious bias could creep into this”, but admitted that the organisation is “extremely concerned” about these findings. This refusing of unconscious bias is something which should sit troublingly with anyone who has been keeping an eye on university news in the last few months, where a series of racial incidents have breached mainstream media. To name a few, earlier this year Sheffield Hallam launched an investigation after a rotten banana was allegedly thrown at a black graduate during an ice hockey match, two males at Nottingham Trent University were arrested following a video surfaced of them chanting “We hate the blacks” outside a black student’s door, and University of Exeter students were suspended after screenshots were published online of racist messages in a group chat.

These incidents are not isolated flare-ups, but instead indicative of a discriminatory undercurrent which runs through British higher education.

Black students often experience a higher education experience which is both institutionally and interpersonally racist.

In the age of Brexit, with the legitimisation of racialised rhetoric, these stories will only become more pronounced, and these are just the observable symptoms of a deep-rooted toxicity.

Efforts are being made at some universities, such as Leeds, to tackle such atmospheres, with the introduction of anti-hate crime campaigns, but there is only so far these drives can go.

The issue is a wider societal illness, with an elusive and seemingly unobtainable 

Reece Parker is Editor-in-Chief of The Gryphon at Leeds University