Ethnic minority groups underrepresented on economics courses at top universities

By Eleanor Busby, PA Education Correspondent
·3-min read

Some ethnic minority groups remain underrepresented in the economics departments of the country’s most prestigious universities, a report has suggested.

Black economists are 64% less likely to work in Russell Group institutions – the most selective universities in the UK – than their white peers, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found.

Nearly a quarter (24%) of economists doing research and teaching in UK universities were from non-white backgrounds in 2018-19 – a rise of 5 percentage points since 2012. This is higher than in UK academia in general (17%).

But ethnic minority economists who work in Russell Group universities are 45% less likely to hold a senior academic or managerial position than their white peers, researchers suggested.

Non-white students accounted for 37% of British economics undergraduates in 2018-19, and take-up for economics was lowest among white students, according to the report.

However, ethnic minority students are less likely to study at Russell Group universities and are much less likely to continue into further study.

Bangladeshi economics undergraduates are half as likely to be enrolled at Russell Group universities as white students and black Caribbeans are more than 60% less likely, the report said.

The paper, co-funded by the Royal Economics Society and the Economic and Social Research Council, also found “large and persistent” attainment gaps between white and ethnic minority students.

It added: “Ethnic minority students are 7 percentage points less likely to get at least an upper second class honours degree and 11 percentage points less likely to get a first class honours degree.

“These gaps are wider than in 2012–13.”

Government Economic Service recruitment data shows that ethnic minority applicants are less likely to be successful during the job application process.

In 2018, of those who passed the initial online test for the Fast Stream programme, only 8% of ethnic minority candidates ended up receiving a job offer, compared with 22% of white candidates.

The report concluded: “There are significant inequalities in the degree of representation of different ethnic groups at different levels of UK economics.

“Although well represented at undergraduate level overall, ethnic minority students are less likely to attend research-intensive institutions, achieve an upper second or first class honours degree, or continue on to doctoratal study.

“Such factors represent clear barriers to greater representation in economic research roles.”

Ross Warwick, a research economist at the IFS, said: “Ethnic diversity among economists matters particularly because economists often play an important role in the formulation of policy.

“Overall academic economists in the UK are relatively ethnically diverse compared to other fields and the population as a whole.

“However, some groups remain underrepresented, such as Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and black Caribbeans, reflecting a broader pattern across the academic sector.”

A Russell Group spokesman said: “Russell Group universities are committed to promoting equality, diversity and inclusion and have taken a range of steps in recent years to increase diversity among staff, address racial harassment, tackle attainment gaps and remove barriers to university access in BAME groups.

“More needs to be done and this work remains a priority for our members, who will continue to look at how we can promote equality and diversity at all levels in collaboration with students and staff.”

A Universities UK spokesman: “Universities are committed to widening access to, and participation in, higher education for staff and students.

“It is clear that a number of challenges and disparities remain, and UUK will continue to work with its members to remove any barriers students and staff may face while at university.”