On 15th of March I had the great opportunity and delight to be part of an amazing experience at Sheffield Hallam University with other University of Manchester Diversity and Well-being Ambassadors. I left not only with an update of the current issues and research that has been done in the field, but also with a profound take-home message that I am about to share in this article.
While it may sometimes seem that people are doing work on research only for the sake of proving the existence of some issues, but not to the extent of putting the solutions down and actually act on it, there are some dedicated people that are willing to do everything in their powers to tackle the issues they are profoundly concerned about. The people that I met in Sheffield, who were kind and open enough to share their own experiences and present their work on it, delivered a presentation about their research focusing on challenges encountered by students within higher education and offered a list of recommendations of possible solutions that can be done in order to tackle those challenges.
The rationale for the OFFA (Office For Fair Access)’s research project is “the need to challenge and support the sector to do more to address the differences in participation, outcomes and progression that persist between students from different ethnic backgrounds that can be masked by the overarching label of ‘Black and Minority Ethnic’ (BME)” (Rationale for the work, OFFA 2018). They targeted interventions specifically aimed at improving the engagement/outcomes of identified ethnic groups and therefore they suggested the establishment of a financial bursary or a place at a Summer School only available to a specific ethnic group; and a review of the curriculum (within universities) to specifically include Black-Caribbean authors, as the teaching should benefit to both under-represented and over-represented groups. In their research project, OFFA approached and evaluated issues such as the differences between particular ethnicities in entry rate for state school pupils in England, the proportion of students in sustained HE and the after graduation outcomes in employment. Their findings suggested big fluctuations between different ethnicities in the contexts specified above, which made the subject of the conference (to learn more about their work go to: www.offa.org.uk).
After introducing us to their work, we had a series of three workshops that we could choose from and participate in. These workshops concentrated on the three stages in a student’s experience in the university: the entry, the progress while studying and the graduation outcomes and employability. We have chosen the second one as it was more relevant for our work and while participating in the workshop we had the opportunity to share our work at Manchester and network with other people.
Apart from learning about the context and real data of these issues, I had the privilege of listening and being inspired by people like Bernadette Stiell (Senior Research Fellow in the Sheffield Institute of Education and Skills) and Bernadine Idowu-Onibokun (Researcher and Lecturer at King’s College London Dental Institute and inspirational speaker around the UK universities, institutions and companies) that were very open and shared their life stories with us. This moment represented a big emotional part of the conference, as other people raised and openly spoke about their own stories.
This whole experience was a reminder that there are amazing, passionate people that are working so hard for what is important, but also that there is still more that has to be done. Those people’s stories are the real proof of the approached issues and the inspiring lesson of being more aware of our environment, of the people’s experiences and of our own behaviour and representation of what this community ought to be.