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Three new reports explore inequality in HE

Posted on 12 December 2022

Researchers in the Department's Centre for Research on Education and Social Justice have released three reports in recent weeks focusing on inequality in different aspects of higher education.

Copyright Alex Holland

British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Zoe Baker published a report on the first phase of her research on the experiences and decision-making of care-experienced graduates. In it, she explores how those who have experience of being in the care system as children and young people find their way into graduate employment and further study. The report highlights how these graduates continued to face significant challenges as a result of lacking emotional and financial safety nets which are available to many other graduates. In some circumstances, care-experienced graduates reported facing a 'cliff edge' as support from their university and other sources abruptly ended after their degree. Dr Baker makes recommendations for addressing this situation to higher education institutions, local authorities and policy makers. She also highlights the determination of care-experienced graduates to 'give back' through their jobs by favouring meaningful work in fields such as social work and education. The research will follow up with interviewees at further points in their graduate journey. You can find out more about her research and sign up for updates via Dr Baker's website.

Meanwhile, Dr Anna Bull has published a report on equity, diversity and inclusion in music higher education. Written with a team which also included Diljeet Bhachu, Amy Blier-Carruthers, Alexander Bradley and Seferin James, the report Slow Train Coming? Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in UK Music Higher Education draws on comprehensive statistical data, a survey of heads of higher education music departments and testimony from music staff and students. The research highlights an under-representation of British Asian students within music higher education and that Black British students were strikingly underrepresented in music in conservatoires and research-intensive universities. These inequalities were reflected in staff numbers too, with the report pointing out that there were no black professors of music in the dataset analysed. Women were underrepresented in music higher education, except in taught postgraduate courses, and social class differences were also evident. Although music departments reported much recent discussion of equality, diversity and inclusion matters, the researchers note that this could be characterised as ‘discussion is active; change is slow’. Based on their analysis, Dr Bull and her colleagues make a range of recommendations for music higher education in the UK.

Finally, Dr Alice Dias Lopes and Professor Paul Wakeling have published a report on inequalities in early career research in the UK life sciences. Funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the report looks at transitions into, through and out of postgraduate research. Race/ethnicity again emerges as a troubling axis of inequality, with the research highlighting that Black graduates in particular are less likely to be interviewed for a BBSRC studentship, to be offered a place or enrol. Black students who do undertake postgraduate research are also less likely to move into postdoctoral research after completing their PhD. The analysis points to the role of institutional tracking in influencing these patterns, and also outlines regional inequalities in research opportunities in the life sciences and a need for 'levelling up' beyond London and the south east of England. These findings influence recommendations for BBSRC, universities and the sector more widely.