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University beckons, but will it help our kids?

A GRADE: A Level students on course for higher education

MY JOB is nearly done as a parent. Those of you who have followed my journey as a columnist for this paper over the last six or seven years will have figured out that my elder daughter is nearing university age and the younger one is not far behind.

I totally expect them to go to university and I will be horrified if they don’t end up at Oxford or Cambridge. But the main thing is that they don’t pussyfoot around and that they do what is expected of them and pass their A-Levels well so that they can take full advantage of the higher educational opportunities that are available to them that I and their mother have paid for with our hard-earned taxes.

It will really p**s me off if they don’t and they know that.

For one thing they will be amongst the very few black people who do not go on to university. If university entrance is anything to go by, we are the most educated sector of society. And yet nobody shouts loudly about that amidst the mire of social challenges that we nevertheless face as a community. It is far more sexy to talk about our failings than our successes.

Apart from The Voice, which other national newspaper says congratulations every year to the new intake of undergraduates at our many institutions of higher learning? And considering the aforementioned challenges that particularly black students face it is nothing short of a miracle that there are so many of them turning out degrees.

Having said that, the elephant in the room is the real talk.

According to research from the University of Essex, black undergraduates are far less likely to get jobs after graduation than their white counterparts. I shouldn’t have been, but I was nevertheless flabbergasted to learn this. Maybe it is my middle-class background that makes me think that bias/prejudice/racism in the employment procedure only adversely affects the ragamuffin class, the roughneck crew and Africans with unpronounceable names. I didn’t think that ‘kin dog’ thing would affect you once you got to the upper echelons of society that we call the graduate class. And yet, according to this survey, apparently it does.


I asked the two researchers Dr Simonetta Longhi and Wouter Zwysen about their findings on my BBC London programme last Sunday and, even though they were reluctant to conclude that the ‘R’ word was to blame (that wasn’t the area of their research) they could not come up with any other reason to explain it. And neither can I.

So here we have the conundrum. On the one hand, I as a black parent want to do the very best for my daughters. On the other hand I want to protect them from the negativity that burdens black children. We have all been through the negativity when slowly but surely your thick skin is unpeeled layer by layer from the age of about ten (especially amongst black boys) until you start throwing up your hands in frustration at being burdened with blackness.


Of course, me and the queen of lovers rock, like the overwhelming majority of black parents, have tried to bring our children up with the joy of blackness. But they are old enough to draw their own conclusions and now that this worthy survey is out there it won’t take long before the bright sparks that my daughters are will be forgiven for wondering “what is the point of higher education if I am still less likely to benefit from it as my white counterparts”.

My biggest fear as a parent is that they will turn to me and ask: “Why didn’t you tell us that we were less likely to get a job after graduation than our white counterparts, you who were pushing us to realise that the only way is university?”

I don’t want to tell them because I’m not altogether sure it won’t hamper their progress. It’s like you’re training for an Olympic medal and then someone tells you, “you will never win the gold because you have ginger hair”. That is bound to knock your confidence for six isn’t it? And ultimately it may cause you to think “stuff that for a laugh”.

But I do have to tell them. Withholding the information would be a betrayal when you’re telling them to stop watching their favourite television shows and go and read their books. And I’m sure there is a right time to tell them, but I just don’t know when that is. For some reason I found it a lot easier to tell them that they are women in a man’s world. For some reason that was easier than telling them, ‘Oh by the way you’re also black women and don’t expect to get a job after graduation like your white alumni’.


So when shall I tell them? Is it better to get it out of the way now and pray to the Lord that they don’t jump ship and become dropouts? Or should I wait until just after their A-levels when it will make less difference and they can just go to university for the fun of it if nothing else? Or should I hope that they haven’t heard about it or seen the report until after their degree is finished and I drop them with the bombshell, then and hope they still love me as a father even though I kept the great secret from them.

I would really appreciate if some of you who have been following the journey of the Adebayo family in this paper for some time and know what I’m like, and maybe even know what my girls are like, would offer some advice. What would you do? Remember my daughters are extremely bright feminists with an Afro-Saxon thing going on.

All suggestions would be much appreciated.

P.S. We must not let racism stop our children from going to university though. We need a nation of intellectuals not plonkers to make Black Britain rise.

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