Universities highlight existing divisions in society

August 18, 2017

A new study from the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Bath has found major inequality between the ethnic composition of universities in the UK. The study finds that while universities are more diverse than where most students grew up, students from the most and least diverse neighbourhoods in the UK usually attend universities with a similar level of diversity to their home neighbourhood. The research presents a challenge to popular notions of universities being integrated environments, whereas the opposite is often the case.

The study found ethnic minority students were concentrated within the most ethnically diverse universities, with many worrying about studying elsewhere on the grounds of racism they and others had experienced. Many of the most diverse universities are ‘new universities’ – institutions given university status since 1992, which tend to receive less research funding and be less prestigious – indicating higher education is heavily divided along lines of both socio-economic background and ethnicity.

Overall, much greater segregation was discovered within universities according to the subject students studied than between universities. Law, business studies and subjects allied to medicine were found most likely to be more diverse than the university as whole, while history, philosophy and language-related subjects tended to be much less diverse.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘It is disappointing to realise that segregation persists at university level. It begs the question of whether it relates to segregation in the primary and secondary sectors, particularly the discriminatory admissions system that operates in many faith schools. The world of education should be breaking down religious and ethnic barriers, but instead still propagates a culture of division at the very schools whose faith foundations should lead them to welcome everyone.

‘Given that an ‘us and them’ culture is allowed to exist in so many schools, we should not be surprised that division permeates university life too. Hopefully this report will shock politicians and educators into re-assessing the divisive walls and restrictive tramlines we have allowed to build up’.



Bath University’s Institute for Policy Research report ‘Diverse Places of Learning? Home neighbourhood ethnic diversity and the ethnic composition of universities’ can accessed here.

In 2015 Accord released a ground breaking report ‘Racial discrimination by religiously selective faith schools: a worsening problem’ which revealed how faith selection by state funded schools in England has become a major source of indirect racial discrimination in society.

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