24 November 2021

The University of  East London has won funding for a project to tackle persistent inequalities that create barriers that deter Black, Asian and minority ethnic students from taking part in postgraduate research (PGR).

The project will be led by Professors Gargi Bhattacharyya (Institute of Connected Communities), Winston Morgan (School of Health, Sport and Biosciences) and Dominic Hingorani (School of Arts and Creative Industries). It is funded under a joint Research England/Office for Students (OfS) programme.

The Social Transformation and Advocacy through Research (STaR) project will develop a career pathway that leads from school to postgraduate research and create routes into research training and careers in the community, voluntary and public sectors.

Over the next four years, the project will enhance research culture and the experience for Black, Asian and minority ethnic PGR students, and diversify and enhance routes into a range of careers.

Professor Verity J Brown, pro vice-chancellor (impact and innovation) at UEL, said, "The project addresses the longstanding under-representation of global majority communities in research careers in the UK. Despite very high levels of participation in higher education, Black, Asian and minority ethnic people have been less likely to pursue postgraduate research.

"The UEL StaR project brings together high-level research training, advocacy skills and community outreach to create an overtly antiracist programme of work. There will be opportunities to enter postgraduate research while also networking with key players in the worlds of policy, politics and community empowerment. The programme includes important work with schools, undergraduates and with local community organisations."

Professor Gargi Bhattacharyya said, "Britain still tends to think of the under-participation of global majority people as a lack in our communities - if only we could learn to be more like the institutions as they are, if only we could be helped to be more confident, or more integrated, or more ambitious. None of that recognises the role of systemic racism in shaping people’s choices. Our programme says the problem is racism and learning to do research that can change the world requires us to also learn how to recognise, navigate and challenge racism. There is not another programme like it in the country."

The funding was awarded after a review by the OfS found evidence that demonstrates persistent, year-on-year inequalities for black, Asian and minority ethnic students in PGR study.

In October 2020 a joint £8 million funding competition was opened for project proposals to improve access and participation for black, Asian and minority ethnic groups in postgraduate research. A total of 13 projects won funding.

Panel co-chairs Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and Maisha Islam said in a joint statement, "Over the course of 2020-21, the longstanding urgency for racial equality was incredibly obvious. We are confident that this competition will be a significant step of tangible action, investment and commitment to support these aims in the context of English Higher Education.

"We have sought to back projects that have demonstrated authentic engagement and partnership work with their students and staff of colour, and a commitment to continue this as part of their own ongoing evaluations.

"This is only one of many first steps, as systemic inequalities will not disappear overnight. We are acutely aware of how much further the sector needs to travel to be in a position to allow people of all backgrounds to flourish and establish the most outstanding research and innovation sector with a formidable research culture to match."