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'Racial bias' challenge to universities

Press release issued: 25 June 2002

Media release
'Racial bias' challenge to universities

Strong evidence that the UK's older universities may be biased against black and minority applicants has emerged in a new study of entry into higher education by Michael Shiner of Goldsmiths College, University of London and Professor Tariq Modood of Bristol University.

The study, which analysed information about 1,000 candidates from each of seven ethnic groups, shows that people from most ethnic minorities are at a disadvantage when applying to the older universities - a bias which does not appear to exist at the newer universities. Indeed, post-1992 institutions seem to have a positive bias in favour of some minority groups.

The study highlights the far-reaching social implications of current patterns of entry into higher education, which, when combined with ethnic discrimination in the labour market, create a cumulative pattern of disadvantage.

The bias against Chinese and Black Caribbean applicants appears to be relatively weak, but in the case of other ethnic minority groups - including people from Northern Ireland - the bias seems to be more pronounced.

Michael Shiner of Goldsmiths College commented: "While it is very positive that so many people from black and minority ethnic communities are participating in higher education, we must be concerned about the way in which they are being filtered away from old universities as this will effect their employment opportunities once they leave college".

The Race Relations Amendment Act (2000) requires universities to demonstrate from June 1 that they are taking positive steps to promote racial equality. The study is likely to act as a further spur to action.

Professor Modood said: "This is a wake-up call for higher education - particularly for the older universities. Our study does not look at how discrimination may be taking place, but it does give a strong indication that many minority candidates face an ethnic penalty and have to perform better than their white peers to secure a place.

"Universities generally pride themselves on their ethnic diversity and would have no truck with deliberate discrimination. The bias that appears to exist is almost certainly complex and subtle and may be associated with unconscious assumptions about ethnic minorities, triggered off especially by 'non-European' names."

The study was funded by the Nuffield Foundation and is published in the British Journal of the Sociology of Education.

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Copyright: 2001 The University of Bristol, UK
Updated: Tuesday, 25-Jun-2002 09:40:08 BST

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