The number of Black students at Durham remains at 2016-17 levels, despite a 13% increase in the student population. There are 467 Black students at Durham, which amounts to 2% of the student population, compared to 4.5% for the UK as a whole.
Durham People of Colour Association (DPOCA) said it was “unsurprising” that the number of Black students had not risen.
The University highlighted a number of schemes it has in place to widen participation, but added that it is “not complacent”.
The number of Black students at the University fell from 467 in 2016-17 to 417 in 2018-19. It was only following the 2020 exams fiasco, and the resulting 5% rise in the total student population, that the number of Black students returned to 2016-17 levels.
The number of ‘home’ Black students remained at roughly 290 from 2016-17 to 2019-20; in 2020, it rose to 352.
Of 467 students, 38 identify as Black/Black Caribbean, 217 as Black/Black African, 55 as Other Black background, and 157 as either Mixed-White and Black African, or Mixed-White and Black Caribbean.
A number of factors may explain why numbers remain low. Black student Michaela Makusha told Palatinate she is pleased that Durham is trying to do more to attract Black students from various backgrounds. One example of this might be that in 2021, the University launched scholarships worth £4,000 each per academic year for two Black undergraduate students from families below a certain income threshold.
The University said: “We run a number of successful schemes aimed at widening participation, and our latest Access and Participation Plan is by far the boldest yet with demanding targets that we aim to meet. These targets focus on increasing enrolments of students from Low Participation Neighbourhoods (POLAR 4) and black students.”
DPOCA told Palatinate that “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.”
They continued that “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.”
Makusha highlighted the need for “a clear message that racism, in all of its forms, isn’t tolerated from anyone… so many incidents can go unreported because Black students, including myself, don’t believe it will go anywhere.” What was needed, Makusha suggested, was “an actual change in culture”; “nobody wants to sign up to three or four years of enduring racism and sexism for the sake of an education”.
As of 2020-1, there were 6,524 BAME students at Durham, representing 30% of students. Of these, two-thirds were international students.
The number of BAME students at Durham has risen by 31% since 2016-17, compared to a 13% increase for the student population as a whole. Data shows that three-quarters of the increase in BAME students is among international students.
Durham is not unique in failing to attract more Black students. Less than 4% of the cohorts at Russell Group Universities are Black, compared to 8% for other UK Universities.
Durham University said: “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.
“Our Supported Progression scheme has helped hundreds of sixth-form students from underrepresented groups progress on to degree programmes with us or other universities. “In October, we are launching our Schools Membership Scheme, working with targeted schools and colleges who have high proportions of students from under-represented backgrounds.
“Just this spring, our Levelling Up: Aspire Higher programme was launched. Our University experts tutor and mentor students who are traditionally underrepresented in Higher Education STEM subjects, as they study towards A-Levels and apply to university.
“We offer a number of scholarships and bursaries either funded by the University, through partnerships with external organisations or through generous donations from our alumni and friends. These include the Durham Inspired – North East Scholarships that have been specifically designed to support applicants from the North East of England.
“However, we are not complacent and we are constantly making improvements to our admissions and support systems.”
Image: Durham University