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Universities “failing” black students with mental health problems

Written by News

Black undergraduates experiencing mental health problems have some of the highest dropout rates among students across UK universities, according to new data from the Office for Students (OfS). The regulator has revealed 77 percent of black students with mental health problems continue their degrees after their first year, compared to 85 percent of students of other ethnicities with mental health problems.

Further data outlined the wide attainment gap between black students and their peers. The OfS said: “In 2017-18…53 percent of black students with a mental health condition obtained a first or 2:1.”

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS, praised the work done by universities to support students’ wellbeing and address issues, but also expressed concern that mental health continues to be a “barrier to success.”

It is also suggested that universities are not doing enough to integrate black students into the campus environment. In 2017, just eight percent of the UK university population were black or Afro-Caribbean students. Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, highlighted the wide attainment gap among ethnic minorities, and said institutions must make a “step change” in the coming years. He suggested that “the real challenge is in ensuring these students can succeed in their studies, and thrive in life after graduation.”

The achievement of black students is very much dependent on their mental health and wellbeing during their university experience. Samuel Adekanle, a second year student at Newcastle, suggested a more balanced view is needed on black students’ mental health. He said: “Universities have to view black people’s mental health to be just as vulnerable as their white counterparts. Also more BAME therapists who we could relate to more”, since this would make it easier for black students to approach the university support services.

Another reason why higher education institutions are “failing” black students may be linked to the lack of black professors or diversity in the curriculum. A 2011 report by the Higher Education Statistics Agency found that only 50 of the 14,000 UK professors were of black ethnicities and just 10 were black women. Professor Kehinde Andrews, who teaches Black Studies at Birmingham City University, argued that the problem lies in black students having to learn exclusively about “dead, white men”. He added: “Being taught Eurocentric knowledge…isn’t just alienating to (black students). It’s actually damaging to you because it’s telling you you cannot think.”

Last modified: 18th November 2019

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