Less than one in five British postgraduate research university students are from ethnic minorities, figures show.
More than a quarter (27%) of all UK students were from ethnic minorities in 2019/20, according to Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data.
But at higher levels of postgraduate study this figure falls.
Among students studying for a postgraduate taught qualification, such as a masters, 24% were from ethnic minorities – and for postgraduate research qualifications, such as a PhD, the figure was even lower (19%).
Since 2014/2015, there has been a slight rise in the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) postgraduate research students – from 17% to 19%.
The figures come amid growing calls to diversify university campuses.
In 2019/20, 6% of all UK students were from a black African background, but this group represented only 3% of postgraduate research students.
Students from an Asian Pakistani background were also less represented among postgraduate research students (2%) aiming to complete a doctorate.
Recent HESA data showed that only 1% of professors at UK universities are black.
University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Jo Grady said: “It is little wonder that just 1% of UK professors are black when so few black, Asian and minority ethnic students progress to postgraduate study.
“Unless the sector addresses the barriers which hold black and disabled students back from progressing into PhD level study, our institutions will continue to be unrepresentative and a huge amount of talent will be wasted.”
Dr Grady called for “concrete commitments” to tackling racism which students experience, as well as “a serious look” at the funding arrangements for postgraduate study to boost numbers.
A Universities UK (UUK) spokeswoman said: “Universities are committed to widening access to, and participation in, higher education.
“As part of the sector’s ongoing work to close the BAME student degree-awarding gap, UUK recommended that developing racially diverse and inclusive environments – including among academic staff – was an important step in addressing inequality.
“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.”