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Film explores absence of black academics

CHANGING THE CONVERSATION: Nathan E Richards (Lee Townsend)

A FILM made by a PhD student is shedding light on the under-representation of black academics in British universities.

Research from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) shows that out of the 18,550 university professors in the UK, only 85 are from an African or Caribbean background. Black students, however, make up 5.9 per cent of the national student body – almost double the UK’s black population of 3.3 per cent.

Absent from the Academy, directed by 31-year-old Nathan E Richards, aims to raise awareness of the absence of black academics and explains how it affects current and future black students, the curriculum, academic culture and wider society in general.

The 33-minute short, which premiered online two weeks ago, has already received over 3,000 views. It features personal accounts of students, well-respected university professors including Paul Gilroy of King’s College London, who lectures in English and American literature.

In the film, Gilroy, also a published author, said: “The system of higher education in Britain is in a terrible mess. The statistics that reflect the over-representation of black minority ethnic Britons as students and the under-representation as teachers in those institutions are part of a bigger picture of dysfunctionality.”

With more black students in higher education institutes than there are lecturers and professors, Nathan E Richards, believes that this will have a negative effect on students from ethnic minority backgrounds.

He said: “The lack of black professors and black reading material in education can leave students feeling like they are recipients of the knowledge rather than participants. They may feel like they have been put at a disadvantage and feel isolated from their peers. They may even be put off studying all together.”

The HESA also reported that 35 per cent of black academic staff are currently employed on temporary contracts compared to 26 per cent of white staff.

Richards claimed that the refusal to offer black staff permanent positions, could give the impression that they are not valued and are not given the opportunity to suggest long-term changes to the curriculum.

Absent from the Academy also explores the difference between the American educational institutions and those in Britain.

Professor Selwn Cudjoe of Wellesley College, in Massachusetts, USA, said: “The States tend to be much more open, and much more receptive to talent and giving people a chance. I think you, the United Kingdom, are in 2013, where we were in 1970.”

Richards, who was raised in Bow, east London, hopes that the British education system will catch up to the States sooner rather than later.

He added: “There are several ways in which this can be resolved. First, the institutes need to realise that there is a problem and then find ways to tackle it. Another option, could be for us to develop our own institutes.” 

If you would like to see Absent From The Academy it can be viewed online:

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