BAME academics are “chronically absent”, says Leicester Vice-Chancellor

Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) academics are “chronically absent” in higher education, the Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Leicester Professor Nishan Canagarajah, has said.

His comments come as the University of Leicester today launches an £1.5m annual scheme to create three new funded PhD studentships and ten postgraduate scholarships to attract students from BAME backgrounds into academia, offering the opportunity to secure a teaching fellowship upon completion of the PhD.

Professor Canagarajah, Leicester’s first BAME Vice-Chancellor, also pledged for the University to “set the standard for inclusion in higher education”. Currently 14.2% of teaching staff at the University of Leicester are from a BAME background, and 9.8% of Professors at the University are BAME – this is over three times higher than the national average of 3% according to analysis by the Universities and College Union.

Professor Nishan Canagarajah said: “Across the UK, BAME university staff are chronically absent within higher education. Inclusion in Higher Education needs to ensure we create a sense of belonging for everyone, particularly staff and students from ethnic minority and socio-economically disadvantaged communities.

“Whilst we are seeing growing numbers of students from BAME backgrounds pursuing a university education, the numbers of university staff are not following suit. It is imperative that we have diverse staff to reflect the diverse student population we serve.

“I want Leicester to set the standard in the UK and beyond for inclusion in higher education – this is why we are funding these programmes; to encourage people from BAME backgrounds to realise their ambition and help to inspire and shape the next generation.”

The initiative forms part of the University of Leicester’s plans to address the low numbers of academics from BAME backgrounds in teaching roles, described as the ‘BAME deficit’ in academia.

Commencing in September 2020, the College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities will offer three four-year UK BAME studentships within its multiple subject areas, including education; law; criminology; management; economics; museum studies; history; politics and international relations; media communications; sociology; modern languages; history of art and film; English and archaeology and ancient history.

The studentships will also be available to UK applicants to complete through distance learning, to ensure the opportunities are open to as many people as possible, and champion inclusion by encouraging participation from disadvantaged communities.

Upon joining the University of Leicester, Professor Canagarajah pledged to eliminate the ‘awarding gap’ - the difference between the chances of white and BAME students getting a first or upper second class honours degree, which sees many students missing out on top degrees - by 2025.

Leicester is one of the most diverse universities in the UK, with 52% of its students coming from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background. The University currently has an awarding gap of 9% compared with the national 13%.

Applications for both programmes are now open and the deadline for application is 31 July 2020.