31 Jan 2022

Ethnic minority postgraduates seek 'sense of belonging', report finds

A new report, Understanding the Lived Experience of Ethnic Minority Students in Postgraduate Research, publishes today.

The research comes from the Institute for Community Studies (ICS) and GuildHE, a body that represents specialist higher education institutions. It is pioneering qualitative research on the experiences of ethnic minority postgraduate research (PGR) students at small and specialist institutions. 

Co-designed and co-authored by eight PGRs from GuildHE institutions, with support from the ICS, the research captures, through interviews, students' perceptions and experiences. ‘A feeling of belonging’ is found to positively influence their education experiences, and this feeling is associated with the level of support received from institutions.  

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Factors that have a negative impact on ‘belongingness’ include a lack of representation among staff and in the curriculum, and experience of microaggressions, discrimination and racism. 

Victoria Boelman, Director of Research at The Young Foundation, which powers the ICS, said: “This research not only deepens our understanding of the challenges faced by ethnic minority postgraduate students but also makes recommendations that small and specialist institutions can incorporate into action plans. By doing so, these institutions can make a tangible difference to the experiences of current and future ethnic minority students.” 

Previous studies have focused on research-intensive institutions, and on students who are predominantly funded by research councils, but this research turns its attention towards experiences of ethnic minority postgraduates at smaller and specialist institutions. This much needed research fills a gap because it is hard for smaller and specialist institutions to draw meaningful conclusions from sector data, not only because there are fewer students per institution, but also because the students have usually followed a different path to research. Today’s study works with these challenges, using peer research to place the student voice at the heart of the research process.  

GuildHE’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion champion Professor Nick Braisby, Vice-Chancellor of Buckinghamshire New University said: “This research is a testament to our commitment to raise and address the significant challenges faced by individuals from communities that are underrepresented in higher education.”  

One of the peer researchers was Susanna Mariam Matthan, a research student at Bishop Grosseteste University. She said: "It has been a privilege to have participated in this research, spending time listening to the experiences of fellow students. Voices can only be heard if others are willing to listen and implement meaningful change. I hope that PGR student voices will be amplified even further through this collaborative work, enabling greater access, enjoyment and a deeper love of learning."