Black education disparity: fewer BAME students graduate with first-class degrees

Parkinson building and steps, one of the University of Leeds most famous buildings.The University of Leeds is one of the least diverse universities in the UK.

The first black woman to graduate from engineering course at University of Leeds highlights the prominent education disparity between races.

Gina Baker, 23, graduated from the Chemical and Nuclear engineering course at the University of Leeds in July this year, making her the first black woman to graduate from this course. As well as making history, Baker also graduated with a first class degree, the highest grade that can be awarded.

While an incredible achievement, Baker’s journey to success demonstrates the progress that still needs to be made to ensure more black people are being correctly represented.

In 2018, less than 8% of black students were awarded a first class degree at the University of Leeds, opposed to the 30% of white students that were awarded a first.

The rate of black students leaving the university is also noticeably higher than their white peers, raising questions about what can be done to guarantee young black adults are getting the education they deserve.

Christoper Alli, 20, left the University of Leeds in September this year. Alli was studying medical sciences and felt he was under-represented at the university, being one of the few black people on the course.

“Being in the minority on my course, I felt I stuck out like a sore thumb. I’d walk into lectures of hundreds of people and would often be the only black person in the room, which made me uncomfortable and would honestly be the reason I didn’t want to go in sometimes.”

He added: “I think seeing more black lecturers and academic staff around university would encourage more black students to come to and hopefully stay in Leeds. As a black person you feel more comfortable knowing you have the support of others who have had the same struggles as you and having that support within the actual university might have encouraged me to stay.”

The university of Leeds has a disproportionate amount of black academic staff, as in almost 4,000 members of staff, black academic staff only make up 1% of the figure.

Gina Baker also wished she had the representation in her teachers, stating: “Being able to see more people who looked like me during my 5 years of education would have gone a long way but I do understand this is a working progress.”

The horrific events of this year have been a late wake up call to many when recognising racial disparity. The murder of George Floyd in May sparked worldwide protests and many high profile figures have made investments into boosting young black voices and supporting education. British rapper, Stormzy, donated half a million pounds to fund scholarships for disadvantaged students.

While positive steps forward are being made and many white people are becoming aware of the action they personally need to take, it is clear that more needs to be done.

Gina is an example of an incredible young black achiever who fought against the statistics but acknowledges that a “louder echo is needed on the opportunities out there for us. Some people need that push and being able to see familiar faces in places of power and actually actioning change is inspiring for all.”

October has been Black History Month for over 30 years in the UK and although this one month is drawing to a close, the fight against injustice is far from over.

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