Simon Hughes ill-informed on black students

An article in the Independent today reporting that black graduates are three times more likely to be unemployed than white graduates does not surprise me, though it saddens me.

Contrary to popular belief, in the current climate a good education does not offer hardworking black graduates any indemnity against unemployment.

In March 2010, the report: Race Into Higher Education revealed that whilst a greater proportion of the ethnic minority population in the UK attend university, black and minority ethnic graduates find it harder to gain jobs with their degrees than their white counterparts.

This information is not new and was highlighted in a 2004 study by Connor et al. What does surprise me is the ill-informed and misleading comment by Simon Hughes. He is quoted in the Independent as saying:

“Although there is evidence of improvement, there are still too few black youngsters who apply to university, and particularly to the highest ranking universities.”

I would be interested to know exactly what “evidence” Simon Hughes is referring to. His comment further adds to the destructive discourses on race that presents us as social problems and agents of our own disadvantage.

Such statements obscure the real picture concerning participation in higher education among the UK’s black population, allowing the government to side-step the real issues. It’s hard to understand why Simon Hughes does not show any interest in tackling the systemic racism that result in black graduates facing higher levels of unemployment.

Instead, he suggests the problem lies with “not enough” young black people attending university and young black people not going to the “right university.” There are two separate issues here that have been merged together in a simplistic fashion that masks the underlying problems.

As I pointed out in an article last year, entitled Coalition policy will lead to fewer black students at Oxbridge, there is not an under-representation of black people at UK universities, as many studies have shown including: Leslie and Drinkwater 1999, Shiner and Modood 2002, Connor et al 2004 and Chowdry et al 2008. So why blame black graduates for rejection in the job market?

Whilst the participation rates for the African Caribbean population are high, there is an over-concentration in post 92 universities and an under-representation at the elite Russell Group universities. But should that really be a basis on which to support employment discrimination in a fair and equitable society?

Simon Hughes’ comment appears to legitimise and promote the concept that only the more privileged members of society from middle class and wealthier backgrounds should expect to be insulated from unemployment, and everyone else should forget about social mobility.  I cannot support such a viewpoint as it flies in the face of equality and justice.

Simon Hughes, who the Independent reports is ‘the Government’s advocate for access to education’ would do far better in that role by undertaking adequate research into participation in higher education and how this links to employment prospects in the job market.

A study published in 2009 by Paul Wakeling at the University of York called Are ethnic minorities under-represented in UK postgraduate study, reaffirms that higher numbers of ethnic minority students apply for university places than white students, although they have a lower success rate. But despite this – they still end up with higher admission rates than white students:

“Qualitative research suggests that this success is contrary to racist stereotypes, evidence of ability and dedication to education as a means of self-improvement and social mobility.” Sadly this dedication and commitment is not yielding any dividends for many of the UK’s young black graduates – but that does not make them the problem.

Comments like the one made by Simon Hughes only serve to reproduce racist stereotypes about young black people in the UK and for someone in his position, this is simply not acceptable.


Connor et al (2004) Why the difference? A closer look at higher education minority ethnic student and graduates; DFES

Chowdry et al (2008) Widening participation in higher education: Analysis using linked administrative data; Institute for Fiscal Studies

Leslie and Drinkwater (1999) Staying on in full-time education: Reasons for higher participation rates among ethnic minority males and females; Economica

Shiner and Modood (2002) Help or hindrance? Higher education and the route to ethnic equality; British Journal of Sociology of Education

Wakeling, P (2009) Are ethnic minorities under-represented in UK postgraduate study; Higher Education Quarterly








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