Think-tank report warns of dangers that campus relations at universities are becoming ‘racialised’ – as sector seeks to address disparities through ethnic grouping
“There is a real danger that campus relations at universities will become racialised”, says Dr Ruth Mieschbuehler, in this new report for Civitas.
Earlier this year, the Government announced the Commission on race and ethnic disparities, with its main purpose to review inequality in the UK, including in the area of education. This followed the growing interest among many members of the public, but in particular students, towards race relations in the UK.
The report focuses on ‘racialisation’ – referring to the process of emphasising racial and ethnic grouping – to show how higher education policies and practices implemented to address the ‘ethnic’ attainment gap are driving this trend.
“The result of these interventions is that students are ‘minoritised’. They are held to be in need of special treatment.”
“The minoritisation of students drives racialisation on campuses because the higher education sector is trying to understand and address disparities through ethnic grouping…”
“Racialisation, in turn, minoritises students because it denies students their individuality by emphasising their group identity and vulnerability.”
By reflecting on the so-called ‘ethnic’ attainment gap in higher education, the report finds that:
“What appears to be a significant gap when attainment is reported by ethnicity has been shown to be significantly reduced when other factors known to impact on attainment are taken into account.”
“…There is no statistical evidence that ‘ethnicity’ determines educational attainment of higher students. Yet policymakers and practitioners believe in the ‘ethnic’ attainment gap and introduce measures to address it with adverse consequences.”
This stigmatises students based on their ethnicity and contributes to the racialisation of campus relations.
The practice of defining and grouping students by their skin colour and basing attainment policies and practices on these divisions drives a wedge between people and removes any sense of our common humanity.
Meanwhile, the continued rise of a new type of ‘deficit talk’ depicts students as being vulnerable – and ultimately, it denies students the opportunity to develop fully academically while accommodating them to failure.
Ruth Mieschbuehler suggests a long-overdue change in approach. Universities need to re-examine the reporting of statistical data on attainment that has contributed unjustly to the perpetuation of the diminished educational status of students from minority ethnic backgrounds. The report concludes by rejecting the practice of grouping higher education students by their skin colour and ethnicity in future policies and practices.
To address the current drivers behind the racialisation of campus relations, it is recommended universities will need to:
• “Firstly, re-examine the reporting of statistical data on attainment that has contributed unjustly to the perpetuation of the diminished educational status of students from minority ethnic backgrounds.”
• “Secondly, reject the practice of grouping and referring to higher education students by their skin colour and ethnicity for basing policies and practices.”
• “Thirdly, recognise that students are not vulnerable and have agency and can take charge of their own learning.”
• “Fourthly, refocus on subject-based teaching and provide students with the academic education they desire and deserve.”
The Racialisation of Campus Relations