The Barriers to Black Academia: Panel 3

Monday 20 September 2021

The urgent discussions on slavery and colonialism ongoing across the UK are just one consequence of the monumental year of 2020, in which the killing of George Floyd led to increased demands for Black Lives to Matter the world over.


In the UK, Higher Education institutions (HEIs) are just beginning to tackle longstanding issues of racial inequity, specifically through the recent Race Equality Charter, which challenges them to address representation, progress and success for Black Asian and minority ethnic students and staff. They are also grappling to understand and deliver on the connected concept of ‘decolonisation’, not just of the curriculum but of institutions themselves, in how they address the colonial legacies of how they came into being and how they operate today.

Across all disciplines, there is an unacceptably low number of Black scholars in the UK, particularly at Professor level and especially women (Rollock, 2019). Funding for postgraduate researchers is a clear issue here – Leading Routes found that just 1.2% of the 19,868 PhD studentships awarded by all UKRI research councils went to Black or Black Mixed students and only 30 of those were from a Black Caribbean background. Yet the disparities appear long before this point in the pipeline.

In History, where the majority of research into the Transatlantic traffic in enslaved Africans is situated and Black historians make up fewer than 1% of UK university-based staff, only 11% of undergraduates are Black and minority ethnic (Atkinson et al, 2018).

There is no doubt that this lack of representation has a significantly negative impact on the diversity of perspectives and knowledge produced on this period of history. Black communities can therefore legitimately ask – why is the study of that which is about us, being done without us?

In response to their own experiences as Black academics working on slavery and colonialism, Dr Leona Vaughn (Research fellow for Slavery and Unfree Labour Research Theme, University of Liverpool) and Malik Al Nasir (Artist, Historian and PhD Researcher at University of Cambridge) have devised the following online symposium for the Centre for the Study of International Slavery at University of Liverpool, open to the public, community historians, scholars and aspiring academics in the UK and internationally.

This series of online panel discussions about the absence of Black UK academics in this area of teaching and research – and the implications of this absence – will culminate in a roundtable and report on the recommendations for how Black British scholars of the present and the future suggest UK universities and funding councils should lift the barriers to Black academics in this field of study in particular, notably as a form of reparative justice

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