University of York: University consortium tackles inequalities in access to PhD study

The Yorkshire Consortium for Equity in Doctoral Education, led by the University of York and including the Universities of Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, and Sheffield Hallam, seeks to minimise any disadvantages experienced by graduates from BAME backgrounds in accessing doctoral level study, and enable and encourage those students to reach their full potential.

The Office for Students (OfS), Research England and Yorkshire Consortium partners, have committed to invest more than £4 million over four years to improve access and participation of BAME people in postgraduate research study across the region.

Reform selection
Investment in this area will allow for the establishment of a mentoring scheme to encourage BAME candidates who are not currently studying, as well as undergraduates and postgraduates to consider applying for PhD study, as well as a support programme once students begin their studies. The consortium also seeks to reform selection criteria for PhD study to ensure no one is disadvantaged and there is fair access to doctoral education.

BAME students are underrepresented in postgraduate research study in the UK. Data published form the OfS shows that 17.1% of postgraduate research students at the UK’s top universities were from BAME backgrounds in 2017-18, and there has been little change in these numbers since then.

Important voices
Professor Paul Wakeling, Head of the Department of Education at the University of York, said: “Our research shows that the population of PhD researchers in the UK does not represent the general population, and nor indeed the population of first-degree graduates from which it is drawn.

“As a consequence, important voices are not heard, and so the research community is deprived of talented people who could research and solve the problems societies face now and in the future.”

Analysis conducted by the consortium has shown that based on the numbers of students gaining good undergraduate degrees in Yorkshire, BAME candidates represent a smaller proportion of new research students than expected. British students of Pakistani and Black Caribbean heritage are particularly underrepresented.

The team has also shown that having applied, BAME applicants are less likely to receive a PhD offer than White applicants for reasons that we don’t yet fully understand. The consortium will review selection criteria and practices to ensure they are inclusive and fair.

Improve access
Professor Kathryn Arnold, Dean of York Graduate Research School, said: “Research and innovation drives our economy and benefits everyone. Yorkshire universities are joining together to make bold changes to how we attract, recruit and retain diverse research talent.

“We want to inspire and empower people from all backgrounds to access careers in research and innovation”