More needs to be done to support ethnic minority STEM students at Glasgow University

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Marianna Marcelline
Science and Tech Editor

The University of Glasgow should do more to support STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) students of ethnic minorities who lack representation on campus and are likely to perform worse in their degrees than their white counterparts.

BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) individuals feel underrepresented in many aspects of university life, particularly within STEM subjects.

According to Raj Singh, a second-year mathematics student, this under-representation results in imposter syndrome and a sense of exclusion amongst students of colour.

Singh points out that the first hurdle ethnic minorities face when it comes to studying STEM subjects is securing a place at a top university. While BAME students are more likely than their white counterparts to attend university, ethnic minorities are still less likely to attend Russell Group universities.

Over one quarter of BAME individuals in Britain believe that introducing name-blind university admissions would help to widen access and participation.

The Sutton Trust, a social mobility charity, states that targeted support from summer schools and an increased focus on introducing other widening participation events could also help to encourage applicants from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Zainab Hussain, a chemistry student, argues that while BAME experiences are at times discussed in the Arts and Social Sciences as part of their course, the same is not true for STEM subjects. As a result, STEM students and even academic staff tend to be less clued up on the realities of racism and how it affects their BAME peers at university.

According to a recent report, 71% of Asian students who graduated in the UK in 2017 achieved a first or a 2:1, and just 57% of black students compared to 81% of white students.

The implications of having too little BAME representation and support on campus also trickle into the world of employment. While careers in STEM offer the highest pay in terms of graduate jobs available, BAME men are 28% less likely to work in STEM than white men. In many STEM sectors, BAME representation is significantly low.

To tackle these problems, Hussain suggests that the College of Science and Engineering should make a sustained effort to increase awareness of BAME issues and promote support via introducing channels of discussion for ethnic minorities.

The new up and running BAME society could be used as an instrument to help BAME students in STEM get to know each other and create a wider support network.

Monifa Phillips, the first black woman to graduate from the University of Glasgow with a degree in Physics, emailed the university’s Equality and Diversity Unit to highlight some concerns she had about BAME experiences at the university.

One suggestion she made was for a web page to be created to feature events and information for BAME students and staff.

In August, the university implemented this idea, and the page currently holds information on the Race Equality Group and links for support if you are facing bullying or harassment, as well as external support links.

A spokesperson for the University of Glasgow said, “We celebrate and champion diversity and want to do all that we can to encourage BAME students to both apply to Glasgow and then get the best learning and student experience when they are here.”

That discussed the work the university has done to support BAME students thus far; “We recognise that BAME colleagues and students may have different experiences and needs. To support our work the University has appointed a senior manager as the Race Equality Champion, currently Ms Bonnie Dean.

“The Race Equality Champion co-chairs the Race Equality Group with Professor Satnam Virdee, Director of the Centre for Research on Racism, Ethnicity and Nationalism.

“This group has student and staff representatives and acts as a channel of communication where race equality issues can be raised and addressed or referred to appropriate bodies for action.”

They have also recently announced a number of scholarships for students of African-Caribbean descent.

According to Hussain, if pressure is placed on the university, things can change. “Without the right support, BAME students in STEM subjects could not only be missing out on getting a good degree, but also on a good, rewarding career”.