Last week, a government report essentially concluded that the UK is one of the least racist countries in the world. It went against similar previous reports over the last decade. It also went against other recent evidence from STEM academia. According to Higher Education Statistics Agency, black graduates are not just underrepresented, but actively shut out of academic careers.
The Main HESA Findings
As a result, the Royal Society called on the scientific community to do more to persuade talent to enter STEM careers.
- White students were twice as likely to graduate with first class STEM degrees as black students
- Black students were three times more likely to get a third-class degree than white students
- Also, there was a higher dropout rate for black students – calculated at 4.7% of undergraduates compared to their white counterparts at 2.7%
This confirms observed and suspected underrepresentation in STEM academia. Around 3% of the UK population is black; 7% is Asian. In STEM academia, 1.7% of professionals are black; 13.2% are Asian. Of those black academics, just 3.5% are professors compared to 11.9% of the population professional employee base.
Meanwhile, The Department for Education found earnings among ethnic minorities working in STEM was lower than their white peers.
The Royal Society Speaks Out
President of the Royal Society Adrian Smith said it was “unacceptable” that black STEM talent in the UK were struggling to find careers in the sciences. He called on the entire community of scientists to solve the problem.
Several solutions and explanations have already been put forward. Notably, Dr Mark Richards – part of the Royal Society’s Diversity Committee said there was “a lack of pastoral support” from universities targeted at ethnic minority students and graduates. He also said there were opaque structures across STEM academia.
It’s notable that many areas of STEM have skills shortages.
Bursaries, Grants, and Funding
The Royal Society offers one of many available grants to help students enter careers that might otherwise be closed. Their flagship fellowship grants attract some 5,000 applicants ever year. Just 12% came from ethnic minority applicants despite around 16% of the UK population being ethnic minority. Just 1% of those ethnic minority applicants were black.
Shockingly, one fellowship scheme has had zero black applicants in the last three eligible periods.
While there is no single brush stroke that will provide a solution, the Royal Society is now planning a series of ongoing mentorship programmes and networking events. These will be targeted at early career professionals, specifically those from ethnic minority backgrounds, to ensure career sustainability.
While this is commendable, it will take effort from government as well as representative organisations to encourage more black people to enter STEM and academia.