In the week in which Barack Obama may become the first black president of the United States, the new British Higher Education minister has warned that there is still a long way to go in tackling inequality. David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham, has warned that there are still nowhere near enough black males getting the chance to go to University. He said: “Let’s be honest about it, we’re not yet living in a society where everyone has an equal chance” and argued that the low numbers of black men going to university exemplifies “the scale of the challenge faced by those of us who want everyone to have the chances in life they need”.
He acknowledged that some universities were doing more than others to address his concerns. He sighted Oxford, where the number of black and mixed parentage entrants rose by a fifth between 2006 and 2008, as an example for other universities to follow.
The figures for the University of Sussex show that the university is making sluggish progress. The latest statistics available show it is slightly below average in the area of recruitment of ethnic minority students. In 2006/07 the University had an intake of 12.1% of black and ethnic minority students. But the University management were quick to stress that these figures were an improvement on the past. In a statement on Thursday the university said “Sussex has admitted an increasing proportion of black and ethnic-minority students, with over 12.1% in 2006-07 (latest year for which comparable figures are yet available), up from just over 10% in 1999-2000.”
The statement also said Sussex aimed to improve these statistics in the future. In the current Widening Participation Strategy one of three key targets identified is “to keep the proportion of students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds at or above the regional norm.”
In an interview with The Badger, Bianca Miller, president of ACAS Sussex (African, Caribbean and Asian Society) said that the issue was a complicated one: “I don’t think there is an easy way to deal with low numbers of black males going to Universities. The issue is complicated by all kinds of factors that don’t have anything to do with race.”
Romaine Jackson, a black male Sussex student, agrees that race wasn’t the major factor in his decision, saying: “I came to this university because it was good for my course and because of the education”.
The issue is further complicated by the fact that the UCAS application form makes no reference to race when supplying universities with information, as discrimination on racial lines, either positive or negative, is banned in the recruitment process. Similarly, the university statistics revealed do not subdivide between different ethnic groups and so figures for black students are not separated from other ethnic minorities.