Absent from the Academy: The lack of black academics in the UK

We featured a documentary film last month called Absent from the Academy which explored the lack of black academics in UK higher education. So it was great to see the director and producer of the film, who is a PhD student at Goldsmiths as well as a digital journalist, writing about its genesis on the LSE Impact Blog. You can read the full article here. We’ve also attached the video again at the end of this post for anyone who missed it the first time round.

The film and digital project ‘Absent from the Academy’, below, came about after my interactions with Trinidadian/American professor, Selwyn Cudjoe. As a research assistant for him during much of 2012 and 2013, I had the great pleasure of engaging with him on both a formal and informal basis. During this time I learnt more about the world of academia than I had done in the previous 5 years of my academic career. Now I don’t attribute this to his blackness, per se, but more his ability to recognize in me, something familiar to his own early career, something reminiscent of his younger self. I know this to be the case because he told me so himself, and in doing so he validated my intellectual pursuits.

This got me wondering about a number of my previous professors and lecturers – and the numerous occasions when I engaged with them during my undergraduate degree. Very often during these interactions I found myself censoring my thoughts on a given topic, generally related to African culture and history, or worse, I struggled to articulate my thoughts against the backdrop of their indifferent facial expressions, that only further alienated my intellectual musings and perspective.

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There are currently 18,550 professors in the UK, 2.5 million UK national and non UK students, of the 165 Universities in the UK the 24 that make up The Russell Group account for one fifth of the student population, around 550,000, there are 121,000 Black students in the UK, that’s around 5.9% (UK national 4.7%), 1 in 14 professors are from BME backgrounds, 36% of black academic staff are on temporary contracts, compared to 26% of white staff, the Russell Group should have around 25,000 black students, if they were being true to the ethnic make up of the country. They have around 11,000 instead – and the most potent result from the data I gathered for my research and film – only 85 Black professors exist in the UK, that’s 0.4%. Of the 85 Black professors in this country, only 17 are Black women, a situation that highlights the way gender and race collide within academia.

With a UK population of 3.3% it is clear that black Britons are faced with a very problematic situation, there is an overrepresentation of black students and a massive under representation of Black professors. These students end up overwhelmingly as recipients and not participants of knowledge creation in this country.

There are 4,450 black UK national academic staff members, and 2,690 black non-UK national staff member – this means over a third of the academics that work within UK institutions are not born and possibly not educated in the UK. There is a very particular type of subtle social injustice that takes place when institutions overlook local populations and point to black non-UK academics and professors when searching for proof that they are in fact actively employing black people. Through no fault of their own these black academics come from a different environment, often without the connection or knowledge necessary to become assets to black populations in the UK.


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