Graduates from ethnic minorities face an even harder time

Fri, 06/07/2012 - 16:02 -- nick

The Guardian has a long track record in writing about ethnic minority issues, and the article below helps flesh out the particular circumstances faced by ethnic minority students. There is strong evidence of discrimination in the job market, and this is illuminated by the article.

'Life for an ethnic minority graduate in 2012 isn't easy. Each step along the way to finding a graduate job, from deciding if it's financially viable to go to university in the first place, to applying for a place and then finding a job afterwards, ethnic minority students are at a distinct disadvantage. The discrepancies are shocking.

Some tuition fees have trebled, putting a university education out of reach for many, and if you come from an ethnic minority background you are twice as likely to be in a low-income household. Being able to afford university is just the first challenge for ethnic minority students.

When the economic crisis was just taking hold in 2008, research revealed that white graduates were finding work more easily than their ethnic minority counterparts. They showed that 66% of white graduates found work within a year compared with 56.3% for black, Asian or other ethnic minority students. The gap seems to have widened since, with Office for National Statistics figures (including non-graduates) showing more than half of black men aged 16-24 and available for work in the UK are unemployed. Since 2008 this figure has doubled, rising from 28.8% to 55.9% in the last three months of 2011, leaving many feeling like they've been left behind.

Much of the recent talk about ethnic minority graduates has focused on Oxbridge, mostly because of its staggeringly low acceptance rate for black students. After issuing a freedom of information request that helped shed light on the Oxbridge situation, the MP David Lammy wrote: "Universities are not like supermarkets: their job is to serve the country, not just the customers who happen to walk through their doors." Those doors are a lot harder to get through if you aren't white.

The old adage of "having to be twice as good" rings especially true when you look at figures that show for some Oxbridge colleges the acceptance rate for black students is lower than half that of white ones. The problem manifests itself outside of Oxbridge as well, with almost as many black students attending London Metropolitan University as in the entire Russell Group of research-intensive universities.

The problem is not restricted to cost and acceptance into a university – the struggle continues after graduation. When I had finished a work experience stint at one of the country's largest press agencies, I spoke to a friend who worked there. He told me an editor had taken one look at my name before I started and asked: "Is this guy going to be any good?." After completing my placement I'd impressed enough to be put on a shortlist for a traineeship with the company, but many never get the chance to show what they can do.

Research commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions found that job applicants with "foreign"-sounding names were at a significant disadvantage. Applications were sent out using the names Nazia Mahmood, Mariam Namagembe and Alison Taylor. The results showed that for every nine applications sent out, an applicant who appeared to be white would receive an invitation to interview or an encouraging telephone call, while it rose to 16 for those with a foreign-sounding name. The research led to calls for applications and CVs to be screened anonymously to remove racial bias.

Yet despite this grim picture, there are those who are determined to not let the odds stop them and others from reaching their goals. Joanna Abeyie is a 25-year-old journalist who started her own company, Shine Media, which focuses on addressing the lack of diversity in the media and giving young students the skills needed to succeed in the industry. Her outlook is positive but realistic. She recognises the difficulties ethnic minority journalists face but focuses on making it as easy and attractive as possible for companies to support diversity within their organisation.

"It's not about confrontation and only telling companies how bad they are doing," says Abeyie. "You wouldn't do that in any other business. We understand there is a lot of politics within companies about the idea of diversity, but we want to make it easy for them."

Problem-solving is something Abeyie mentions frequently during our conversation and the work she and others do is vital if the huge discrepancies for ethnic minority students in admissions to top universities and job expectancy levels are to be addressed. Without solving this issue the next generation of ethnic minority students will increasingly see university as something that isn't meant for them and the improvements in attendance levels, which have doubled for some ethnic groups since the mid-90s, could be undone. The current imbalance puts ethnic minority students in a difficult position. They are being asked to take increasing risks in order to go to university with a chance of reward that is ever diminishing.'

The Guardian