A report by Cumberland Lodge scholar, Laura Castells Navarro, on the 'Ethnic Inequalities at Work: Policy and Institutional Responses' conference at Cumberland Lodge on 3-4 November 2016

Published Date: 
Tuesday, 22 November 2016
Laura Castells Navarro

A key focus of the 'Ethnic Inequalities at Work: Policy and Institutional Responses' conference was the access to and effect of education for ethnic minority groups.

We were shown some of the most recent statistics about BAME students in higher education. There was some positive news, such as that since 2015 there has been an increase in the GCSE scores of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) students; thus, suggesting the historical educational attainment gap is starting to close. However, the downside was that BAME students are still three times less likely to get a 1st and three times more likely to get a 3rd at university compared to their white counterparts.

Even more surprising was the fact that while BAME students might enter the system with similar scores to their white counterparts, they finish higher education with significantly lower scores than they were expected to achieve given their original marks. Moreover, they have a significantly lower probability of finding a job in the first six months after finishing education. So the main question in this section of the conference was: What is happening at University level to cause such an effect on the scores and prospects of BAME students? 

The reality, we were told, is that there are many factors which trigger this disengagement and, as yet, we do not fully understand how they affect the student. However, as one speaker said, the fact that at a problem is complicated is not an excuse not to deal with it. During the different sessions on ethnic inequality and education, it was repeatedly noted that in order to create a more inclusive university and work place it is the institutions themselves, and not the students or workers, who need to change. Thus, one of the suggested solutions to tackle this inequality was to revise the University curriculum to make it more inclusive and accessible so that BAME students can see themselves in it. In the university environment, the modification of courses is a huge task that demands collaboration between staff and students at all levels.

However, two problems have been identified that could interfere in the creation of the more inclusive curriculum. First, the lack of detailed data remains one of the main problems concerning BAME students and workers; if broken down specific data were available, actions aimed to improve the experience and progression of BAME students could be made more effective. And second, most academics already have an overstretched schedule which often means that they have little time to reimagine their curriculum unless there is additional support from the University.

Another stark fact we were shown was that there are several barriers that BAME students need to face to get into the work market. An audit was carried out with the aims of understanding how these student access education, how the experience of education is and how the progression from education to work is (Morris 2015). The audit classified these barriers into three categories: the inherent inequality of the Universities that are favoured by the employers (i.e. the percentage of BAME students in Russell Group Universities is very low); the coordination to connect young people to opportunities; and the attitudes of employers.

One of the most important lessons we learnt was that the issue of ethnic inequality is so complex and has so many branches that solving it requires the active involvement of people at every level of society: there needs to be political will, a legislative framework and a solid base of evidence with specific data must be gathered (the Race Disparity Audit should help to gather this data). Local authorities also need to be engaged to: act as a link between individuals and opportunities; to provide funding opportunities for apprenticeships and skills development programs; to provide career guidance and design local employment schemes targeting BAME individuals.

Additionally, universities need to be encouraged to increase their diversity and to provide one-to-one mentorship and companies need to increase the transparency and the scrutiny not only of their hiring strategy but also the promotion and progression of BAME workers within the company. 

Finally, the general consensus at the conference was that we need to identify what unconscious biases and assumptions towards the BAME community exist and how they can induce inequality or discrimination. It is our duty to modify these practices and change the culture of business and institutions. However, it was also pointed out that, as with many processes, this is a two way relationship, BAME individuals and communities also have to actively reach and use these newly created resources.  


Morris, M (2015) Supporting ethnic minority young people from education into work. Joseph Rowntree Foundation.