24 November 2021

University wins funding for pioneering projects to improve postgraduate research participation and access for BAME students

The University of Sheffield has been awarded funding for three projects which aim to tackle persistent inequalities that create barriers for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students (BAME) to access and take part in postgraduate research (PGR).

Exterior of Firth Court from the Concourse
  • University of Sheffield awarded funding for three projects to tackle inequalities that create barriers for Black, Asian and minority ethinic (BAME) students to take part in and access postgraduate research (PGR).
  • The initiatives are among 13 projects funded by Research England and the Office for Students (OfS) to improve access into research, enhance research culture and the experience for BAME PGR students, and diversify and enhance routes into a range of careers.

The University of Sheffield has been awarded funding for three projects which aim to tackle persistent inequalities that create barriers for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students (BAME) to access and take part in postgraduate research (PGR).

The pioneering initiatives, funded by Research England – part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) – and the Office for Students (OfS), will improve access into research, enhance research culture and the experience for BAME PGR students, and diversify and enhance routes into a range of careers.

The University will establish the University of Sheffield Centre for Equity and Inclusion, will collaborate with four other universities on the Yorkshire Consortium for Equity in Doctoral Education (YCEDE) and participate in the Generation Delta project to nurture the next generation and increase the number of BAME female professors at higher education institutions in England. 

The projects will support the University to deliver its Race Equality Strategy and Action Plan, which aims to improve the representation, progression and success of BAME students and staff through the creation of an even more culturally inclusive and diverse University community.

We are delighted to have been awarded funding for these important projects, which will tackle the issues causing underrepresentation of BAME students in postgraduate research.

Professor Susan Fitzmaurice

Vice-President of the University’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities and Chair of the Race Equality steering group

“At the University of Sheffield, we are committed to driving diversity, equality and inclusion throughout our University community. This includes removing barriers that may hold people back, because when people come together with different views, approaches and insights it can lead to a richer, more creative and innovative environment for teaching, research and student experience.”

The University of Sheffield Centre for Equity and Inclusion will establish an expert network of BAME postgraduate PGR students, academics, and local partners, to create longitudinal, systemic, and structural change within the University. It will work to improve BAME PGR students’ experience through mentoring, training and support led by experts in equity and inclusion

The centre will also collaborate with organisations in the South Yorkshire region, providing funding to support knowledge exchange projects co-developed by BAME PGR students and community partners with expertise in social and racial justice. 

Dr Nadena Doharty, from the University of Sheffield’s School of Education, said: “The Centre for Equity and Inclusion offers a solution-focused approach to acknowledging the racial inequalities that saturate contemporary higher education, and actively embedding more equitable practices across the PGR journey that will benefit BAME students.” 

Rob Cotterell, Chair of partner organisation SADACCA (Sheffield and District African and Caribbean Community Association), said: "By taking part in the project, our aim is to enable students placed with us to have a unique learning experience, and a positive impact on the communities they not only belong to, but also serve. 

“The added value for SADACCA is to encourage the University to commence dismantling the internal structural barriers that make this project vital. In turn, future Black students will have increased feelings of inclusion and significantly reduced marginalisation."

The Generation Delta project has been designed to lay the foundations for a long-term increase in the number of BAME female professors in higher education.

The initiative, led by the University of Leeds with partners the Universities of Sheffield, Plymouth, Reading, Sunderland and Goldsmiths (University of London), will work with institutions to design and deliver training and strategic advice to embed equitable practices into the PGR lifecycle. 

It will also pilot contextual offers/contextualised admissions for BAME female PGR students; design and implement workshops which will support and engage PGR students to successfully access and participate in PGR study and academic careers, and create a network of support led by and for students that is modelled on the Black Female Professors Forum.

Professor Amaka Offiah, Professor of Paediatric Musculoskeletal Imaging in the Department of Oncology and Metabolism, Chair of the University’s BAME Staff Network and Co-Chair of the Race Equality Charter Self-Assessment Team, said: “This project is unique amongst those funded by the OfS and Research England, in that it focuses on BAME females, the smallest group of professors in UK higher education. 

“Led by a team of BAME female professors, this is an important and exciting opportunity to understand and break down the barriers to successful careers in academia that this group faces. Our hope is to encourage and mentor BAME female students at every stage of their academic careers, with a view to redressing the current imbalance at the very top.”

The Yorkshire Consortium for Equity in Doctoral Education - a collaboration involving the Universities of York, Bradford, Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam and Leeds - will tackle ethnic inequalities in accessing postgraduate research through innovations that reshape institutional policies and procedures. It will support BAME candidates to apply for PGR programmes, work to enhance their on-course experiences and provide bespoke mentoring and training to build a strong community of staff and PGRs with the knowledge, confidence and leadership skills to succeed in their future careers.

Professor Lorraine Maltby, Deputy Vice-President for Research at the University of Sheffield, said:  “A diversity of experiences and perspectives is critical to understanding our world and tackling the major societal challenges we face, nationally and globally. 

“These projects will enable us to further our commitment to a diverse and inclusive PGR community and will help to maximise the impact of the excellent research our PGRs undertake now and in the future. By working with our partners and local communities, we will catalyse change in the recruitment and support of BAME students across Yorkshire and nurture the next generation of BAME research leaders.”

The initiatives are among 13 projects funded by Research England and the OfS which range from targeting recruitment, admissions and transition to increasing the number of Black,

Asian and minority ethnic female professors, and generating new admissions practices to create longitudinal, systemic, and structural change at various English universities.

Research England’s Director Research, Steven Hill, said: “Persistent inequalities occur throughout higher education for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students.

He said: “Some of the inequalities that exist for Black, Asian and minority ethnic undergraduate students – such as the current gap in degree outcomes between white students and Black students of 22.1 percentage points are reflected in the underrepresentation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic students in postgraduate research (PGR) students.

“PGR students are also researchers and teachers, and play an important role in supporting the research and academic talent pipeline.

“Supporting access and successful participation for Black, Asian and minority ethnic PGR students through these 13 innovate projects is crucial – both to improve opportunities for current generations, and to increase the diversity of talent into academic careers, which has been identified as important to addressing attainment gaps.”

Director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students, Chris Millward, added: “Black, Asian and minority ethnic students have high levels of participation in undergraduate education, but they are less likely to secure the top degree grades and go on to postgraduate research.  This then affects their representation among academic staff, particularly at senior levels. 

“The projects will ambitiously tackle the issues causing underrepresentation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic students in postgraduate research, with the aim of stimulating innovation and developing effective practice for universities and colleges throughout the country. This is vital, so that postgraduate research in this country can benefit from the talents of people from all backgrounds.”


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