Last month, two students released data through the University’s official Instagram page which displayed a severe lack of ethnic diversity amongst the student and faculty population of the University of St Andrews.
When visiting from Harvard, PhD student Laura Lewis had the opportunity to take over the University’s Instagram page last month to highlight her research program. She was also able to share data which revealed shocking statistics on the lack of racial diversity amongst the student and professorial bodies at St Andrews.
Ms Lewis specified that she “realised that with the opportunity to highlight [her] experience as a visiting PhD student on the University of St Andrews Instagram page, [she] could both present [her] dissertation research and highlight [her] experience as a woman of colour at a university that is clearly lacking in diversity in both the student and faculty populations.”
The charts were produced by Dillon Harindiran, a graduating economics and international relations student, to demonstrate the racial breakdown of UK domiciled students at St Andrews as well as the racial breakdown of the faculty. The charts revealed a number of significant statistics on ethnic diversity at the University.
There were only six BME (black and minority ethnic) professors at St Andrews in comparison to nearly two hundred white professors as of December 2018. This data was published by the University via their most recent (2019) Mainstreaming report.
The statistics shares via the Instagram story also state that black students make up a mere 0.7 per cent of all UK domiciled students at St Andrews, with there being approximately as many black male students at the University as male students from just Eton College and Harrow School combined.
These figures were sourced through data released by the University four years ago in 2015 and were disclosed as a result of more recent Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, according to Mr Harindiran.
There are several more pending FOI requests which have been submitted as a means of compelling the University to provide up-to-date, granular data on ethnic diversity across the University as a whole.
Professor Ruth Woodfield, assistant vice-principal for diversity, told The Saint that the University publish the data that they need to publish to comply with reporting requirements, adding that they “can explore publishing it at a further level of granularity, whilst being mindful of the need to ensure students and staff are not identifiable.”
The University states that they are unable to publish a racial breakdown of the student or staff population for risk of revealing the identities of those from ethnic backgrounds, adding that “as with the rest of the higher education sector, this balance is a consideration we need to take into account in relation to all protected characteristics.”
Mr Harindiran met with Principal Sally Mapstone in 2016 to discuss diversity at St Andrews. According to Mr Harindiran, she agreed that it was right for the University to publish comprehensive and updated data on ethnic diversity and admission rates for students across faculties and ethnicities. However, this is yet to occur.
When Mike Johnson, deputy director of admissions, was asked about the possibility of publishing these admission rates he also expressed concerns of protecting the identities of both students and staff.
“We can explore this but there is currently no requirement to do this. However, we are required to ensure individuals cannot be identified,” Mr Johnson told The Saint.
Mr Harindiran explained that he has always felt that the lack of ethnic diversity has been “a significant, yet largely unchallenged, problem at St Andrews.”
Along with Ms Lewis, he agreed that it would be valuable to share the graphics they produced over the University’s Instagram story when Ms Lewis was given the chance to take over the account.
Ms Lewis explained, “Rather than bad-mouthing the University, my goal was to highlight the lack of diversity within the student and faculty populations in order to create more awareness around this issue. It was wonderful to see students from very diverse backgrounds coming together to process and discuss these shocking statistics about ethnic diversity and the potential feasible solutions.”
The University’s Instagram page has over 20000 followers, and the graphics were met with a widely shocked reaction from students. Many reposted them on Facebook pages such as St Fessdrews, where they gained over 2500 thousand likes out of 3000 followers.
Initially, the University made no comment on the figures. However, when The Saint asked for their response, Professor Woodfield celebrated the gesture, claiming that the University looks forward to working with students to develop the best policies and initiatives to progress equality, diversity and inclusion agendas.
“We are always delighted to see students engaging with important issues. We need the entire University community, especially the students, to help us overcome any perceived hurdles to increasing diversity.”
According to Mr Harindiran, one of his main reasons for collecting data on ethnic diversity is to confirm if there is a compelling, evidence-backed case for a name-blind application process at St Andrews.
In an email to Principal Mapstone, Mr Harindiran stated that “removing the names of applicants from their university applications would remove subconscious biases that are likely to play a role in limiting non-white applicants to academically selective universities and would result in a more meritocratic process of selection.”
Mr Harindiran believes that the existing UCAS system, through which prospective students’ names are visible to universities, may be an important contributing factor in the lack of black and ethnic minority students at St. Andrews and is one that is easily rectified. This, he states, is confirmed by a vast quantity of research conducted by Nobel-prize winning behavioural scientists and economists alike.
The implementation of a name-blind application process was discussed around five years ago by UCAS and the university sector with the support of the then Prime Minister.
While Mr Harindiran maintains the position that the names of students are irrelevant information that “merely allow room for subconscious biases to take hold,” Mr Johnson told The Saint that the University felt it was not an effective solution to issues regarding diversity and could potentially be detrimental to the outreach work they do.
Mr Harindiran will be meeting with the University’s Director of Admissions, Julie Ramsay, in the coming weeks to discuss this further.
There are statistics on ethnic diversity which reflect positively on the University. According to the University’s most recent Mainstreaming report and Advance HE UK’s 2018 statistical reports for staff and students across the whole UK sector, St Andrews maintain a higher percentage of BME students (10.1 per cent), than Scotland’s national average (8.3 per cent).
Despite this, students still feel as though there is more to be done towards ethnic diversity for staff and students, with Ms Lewis commenting that “as a biracial woman, I strongly feel the lack of diversity in the academic spaces that I occupy every single day.”