Page last updated at 10:14 GMT, Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Rise in ethnic minority students at UK universities

By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News education and family

black students at Cambridge
Four non-London universities had a proportional share of non-white students

Ethnic minority groups are better represented in UK universities than in the general population, says research from a diversity in business charity.

In 2007-08, 16% of students from the UK studying for degrees were from a black, Asian or ethnic minority background.

This compared to 14.2% of the 18-24-year-old age group as a whole.

The Race for Opportunity report found ethnic minority students made up 14.1% of the total of students at 20 leading Russell Group universities.

The report found that London universities, including the London School of Economics (LSE), King's College London, Imperial College and University College London, were the best-performing Russell Group universities for the recruitment of ethnic minority students.

Fewer at Oxbridge

Outside London, only the universities of Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham and Warwick were attracting a representative proportion of the UK ethnic minority population, the study found.

Just over one in 10 students at Oxford and Cambridge universities (11.1% and 10.5% respectively) were from an ethnic minority background, the research found.

The headline in this report is encouraging
Sandra Kerr, Race for Opportunity

Only Chinese and mixed ethnicity students were better represented at Oxbridge than average, whereas those from all other ethnic minority groups were under-represented.

But Cambridge disputes the accuracy of the research findings.

The research found British Indians were the largest ethnic minority group in UK universities in 2007-08 at 3.3%. This compares to 2.7% of the total population of 18-24-year-olds.

They were followed by black or black British Africans (3.2%) who have almost tripled their university presence in the last 12 years, the report said.

British Bangladeshi and British Pakistani students continue to be the most under-represented groups within UK universities.

But the study also found ethnic minority graduates did not find employment as easily as their white counterparts.

Just 56.3% of black Asian and ethnic minority graduates in 2007-08 found work within a year, compared with 66% of white students.

These figures back up research from the National Skills Forum (NSF) which found ethnic minorities were being excluded from the labour market.

The NSF says 32% of Pakistani and 44% of Bangladeshi adults in the UK have no qualifications at all and only 16% of black Caribbean young men go to university.

The NSF says more must be done to address low aspirations among ethnic minority learners.

Monitoring race

The Race for Opportunity report findings are based on analysis of the Office of National Statistics' Labour Force Survey and the Higher Education Statistics Agency's Student Record.

The report said monitoring and reporting on ethnic minority representation should be carried out by all universities.

And university vice-chancellors should take on responsibility for improving ethnic minority representation, where it is below the national average.

It calls for ethnic minority school pupils to be better informed of the importance of choosing the right university, with high-performers being identified at the age of 14 and "cultivated both academically and otherwise".

The study also calls for an alumni fund to give financial support to help ethnic minority students at Russell Group universities.

Sandra Kerr, national campaign director at Race for Opportunity, said: "The headline in this report is encouraging: ethnic minorities are better represented in higher education than their share of the general population.

"But as precious as higher education of all types is, only if more school leavers from ethnic minority backgrounds study at Oxford, Cambridge and other high achieving universities are we likely to see British ethnic minorities progress into senior management and key leadership positions."

The Race for Opportunity campaign is part of the Business in the Community group.

It was founded in 1995 and aims to raise awareness of the barriers preventing ethnic minority communities from making progress in the workplace.

Cambridge disputed the report's findings saying the latest available figures (for the academic year 2008-09) showed 15% of students declared themselves as non-white.

A spokesman added Ucas data suggested that black and minority ethnic students account for less than 13.3% of students achieving three A grades at A-Level - lower than the proportion admitted by Cambridge during 2008-09.

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