Supporting Black, Asian and minority ethnic students during the coronavirus pandemic

Josh Callander discusses our recent event on supporting Black, Asian and minority ethnic students during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Student sitting at a laptop with headphones on

Last Friday the Office for Students (OfS) hosted an online event on supporting Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students during the coronavirus pandemic. Recognising that this is a student group vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic, we welcomed the briefing note provided by Gurnam Singh. The event brought practitioners, teaching staff and students together to discuss experiences and share emerging practice.

There were two panels comprised of students, academics and colleagues from sector bodies. The first panel focused on achieving equality in the sector during the pandemic, and the second looked at the impact of lockdown restrictions on teaching and learning for BAME students.

Supporting Black, Asian and minority ethnic students

Access and participation is a top priority for the OfS. Our ambition is that future generations should have equal opportunities to access and succeed in higher education. In order to achieve this, we’re clear that our work needs to be founded on rich insights from the lived experiences of students. 

One of our key performance measures is eliminating the gap in degree outcomes between white and Black students.

We have taken an active role in tackling harassment, discrimination and hate crimes and will continue to support students and providers with guidance and resources. We have paused our current consultation on sexual misconduct and harassment due to the coronavirus outbreak, but aim to conclude this and implement its recommendations as soon as we can.

Diversity of voice and engagement

We wanted to ensure that the panels reflected the diversity of voice and engagement that is needed to support students during the pandemic. We’re grateful to Gary Loke (Advance HE), Ian Dunn (Coventry University), Gurnam Singh (Coventry University), Alison Shaw (Newcastle University), and Sara Elkhawad (Newcastle University Students’ Union) for their contributions.

To say that we didn’t expect our allocation of 500 places for this event to be filled within 24 hours is perhaps an understatement. We think this is reflective of the commitment of the sector to supporting BAME students during the pandemic and beyond. It may also reflect some of the positive impacts of remote working and conferencing – for example, the removal of geography as a barrier to attendance. Thanks to all those who commented and asked questions.

Black Lives Matter demonstrations and anti-racism

The killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations taking place in the US, UK and other parts of the world have prompted considerable discussion of, and actions to eliminate, racial inequality, including how we should tackle individual and institutional racism where it’s present in our culture, systems, and structures.

Higher education is not immune from racism. Despite the hard work of colleagues, activists, and allies over the last few decades there are persistent inequalities in access, participation, and experience. We know that we must continue this work and challenge ourselves and the sector on our individual and organisational journeys towards anti-racism and supporting BAME students.

Next steps

Recordings of the panel discussions are available on our website.

We will be answering some of the questions the panels were unable to get to, and these will be added to a webpage being developed on supporting BAME students during the pandemic. In the meantime, we would invite you to have a look at our coronavirus case studies and briefing notes on supporting students during the pandemic if you haven’t already done so.

We are keen to hear more from universities, colleges, students’ unions and other organisations about their efforts to support BAME students during the pandemic. So, we would welcome case studies for the new webpage. Please send your case study to [email protected].

Watch the event recordings


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Published 12 June 2020

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