Durham University is leading a new £2.5m project to support BAME students and staff in postgraduate research. The pro:NE project, also launched at Newscastle, Northumbria, Sunderland and Teeside University, aims to widen access and participation in postgraduate education through events, training and workshops for BAME students and staff in the North East.
The project focuses on four key areas: mental health, development, mentoring and admissions, to widen the pathway for current and prospective BAME students to enter academic employment.
As part of the project’s focus on mental wellbeing, a specialist mental health pathway for postgraduate research students of colour has been established in collaboration with Newcastle Psychologies Therapies Clinic, with the aim to offer culturally competent support.
The project also offers a yearly online conference for postgraduate research students of colour as an opportunity for networking and developing skills and best practise.
Its mentorship programme hopes to further foster academic community and collaboration through pairing postgraduate students of colour with academic staff. In admissions, the project aims to build on previous research on name-blinding, tackling unconscious bias and contextualising admissions to widen inclusivity and opportunity for BAME students. Project lead Professor Jason Arday outlines the project’s aim “as a means of dismantling racism and creating more opportunities for academics of colour to enter the Academy particularly in the North East of England”.
In November, Palatinate revealed that the number of Black students attending Durham has not changed in five years. The number of Black students at Durham remains at 2016-17 levels, despite a 13% increase in the student population. Durham People of Colour Association said it was “unsurprising” that the number of Black students at Durham had not risen: “While the University does have a very committed access and engagement unit – mentoring, outreach, scholarships – the issue is not just about getting Black students to come to Durham. It’s equally, and if not more importantly, about making sure Durham is a safe and inclusive space for those students once they are here. Often this is an afterthought.
“You cannot diversify an institution like Durham without consistent and unequivocal commitment to fostering a safer environment for Black students, home and international.
“Racism has a massive role to play here and naturally, that is a major deterrent for potential Black students and a retention problem for those here.”
In response to these figures, the University said: “We run a number of successful schemes aimed at widening participation. We actively encourage students from a broad range of backgrounds to apply to Durham, including those who are from backgrounds that are underrepresented in Higher Education. We are not complacent and we are constantly making improvements to our admissions and support systems.”
Image: Amana Moore