New £2.5m North East university scheme to improve diversity in postgraduate research

Less than one in five British postgraduate research university students in 2019/20 were from an ethnic minority background. Credit: PA images

A North East project to widen access and participation by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students and staff in postgraduate research has received over £2.5 million in funding.

The Pro:NE project – led by Durham University- has brought together Teesside, Sunderland, Newcastle and Northumbria universities to strengthen pathways into higher education for ethnic minority students from across the region.

The four-year scheme will offer training, networking opportunities and a reciprocal mentoring scheme with academic staff who are also from minority groups.

Professor Sarah Aiston, Professor of Public Policy in Teesside University's School of Social Sciences, Humanities & Law, said: “It is just such a fantastic opportunity for the five North East universities to come together and work on something so important for the region.

“It is a big investment - a four-year project - to tackle the barriers facing students of colour entering postgraduate research.

“It is about supporting students through that pipeline. Hopefully for them to get into academic jobs, if that is the route they want to take, because staff of colour are hugely underrepresented ​in higher education."

The project aims to improve the admissions process into postgraduate research by using practices such as name-blinding and contextualised admissions (considering an applicant’s potential in light of their individual circumstances).

Prof Aiston explained: "I am keen that, as well as attracting students of colour to the region to study as postgraduate researchers, we also support and encourage students of colour from the most disadvantaged backgrounds in the region to see this as possibility for them.

"As I born and bred North-Easterner, I am excited that we have the opportunity to make real change for our region."

Dr Antony Mullen, Research Associate at the University of Bolton's Research Institute for Social Mobility and Education, said:"Developing skills that enable independence is the foundation of meaningful social mobility, so the mentoring and development aspects of this programme will be the most important parts of it, alongside eliminating financial barriers."The pilot focusing on fairer admissions is innovative and could prove important in offering a level playing field for university admissions in general - removing barriers that exist to those held back by all kinds of disadvantage - and be extended beyond doctoral programmes by the partner universities."