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NUS calling for action on race equality for black students

PASSIONATE ABOUT OUR FUTURE: NUS Vice President Amatey Doku is working for a fairer society

THE NATIONAL Union of Students (NUS) has always fought for the rights of students to access and shape a just education system.

This year, we secured key concessions in the Higher Education Research Act, ensuring that the conversation this summer was about the broken university funding system.

However, one key area that the Government has not committed to tackling is the persistent racial injustice in our higher education system. The injustices of our education system are clear when it comes to the future of young black people.

Our universities can and must be engines to improve society, but right now the economic background of students entering higher education is still the biggest indicator of their future earnings. This negatively impacts on black graduates disproportionately.

It has been compounded by replacing means-tested maintenance grants with loans, hiking interest rates and freezing the threshold for repayment below inflation.


Another area where the Government’s plans for the sector have failed to address race inequality is attainment. From the late 1990s, there has been mounting evidence that ethnicity is a significant factor in students’ degree classification on graduation. In 2015 black graduates in England were 26.8 per cent less likely to receive a first or upper second class degree than their white peers. This is the widest gap, but is also present for students with other non-white heritages.

These gaps cannot be explained alone by entry grades or financial background, which governments have accepted for over a decade. This attainment gap starkly demonstrates structural oppressions, inequality and discrimination in our universities.

Our members are calling in unprecedented numbers for real action on the attainment gap, and NUS is working to address these inequalities in universities with academics and professional staff.

I am bringing together our students’ unions and the Equality Challenge Unit, who work to further equality within higher education, to promote adoption of their Race Equality Charter by all universities. This is one way that we’re asking universities to demonstrate their commitment to a just education system.


The problems that create differences in attainment are often due to a combination of causes within courses and departments. This complexity means it is essential that black voices and action is part of everything we do.

This includes NUS’ autonomous Black Students’ Campaign, which is made-up of students who self-define as of African, Caribbean, Arab and Asian heritage, including voluntary officers in most of our higher education member unions.

However, there are black students driving forward all of our work, from course representatives in universities through to NUS’ current black President, Shakira Martin.

NUS has worked to ensure that students are a part of decision-making at all levels in higher education. This includes students making change on modules and courses through to university governance, and to the UK’s governments.

Where students can make change at every level these oppressions can be dismantled and our education system become transformative and inclusive of all students.

NUS is creating a vision of an education system as a social good that can enrich all of our communities, and our black students – current and future – are at its heart.

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