The role of universities is pivotal in creating opportunities for Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students to take the ownership of tackling the issues directly facing them. Additionally, I argue that universities should tap into the potentiality of ethnicity as a powerful social capital that could bring significant changes in the experiences and outcomes of BAME students, by providing a structural platform: built on a supportive and inclusive foundation.
My article – ‘Case Study: Enhancing the Learning Experiences of BAME Students at a University: The University Role’ – examines the salience of an institution in improving the learning experiences of BAME students, based on a student-led participatory project that we carried out between 2018-2020. The project was part of initiatives to address inequalities faced by ethnic minority students, in chime with the UK higher education sector-wide goal of eliminating or reducing disparities between different social groups of students under the Higher Education and Research Act 2017.
Whilst there were already projects targeting BAME students at Bournemouth University (BU), I strongly felt there needed to be a more student-led project that provided a platform for them to take initiatives in identifying the underlying issues as well as ways in which their learning experiences could be improved. In total, nine monthly 2-hour focus-group meetings took place with approximately 11-12 BAME students from all three Social Sciences programmes, at all three levels, over 18 months.
Participant students’ evaluations suggest that the major reasons for their participation were to share their experiences, to help others and to bring positive changes. All the students agreed that their participation in the project helped them better engage with their learning, primarily thanks to their enhanced awareness of the issues and barriers that BAME students face, as well as the range of opportunities available at university that they learnt from other students in the project. As a result, the students expressed that they became more proactive learners. Also, being part of the project enhanced students’ focus on their future career. Talking about it with other people in the supportive network became a powerful tool to motivate and think about their future. Students additionally reported their elevated sense of belonging and community through their ‘discussions of shared experiences’. This sense generated the improvement in their self-worth and confidence for some students. More importantly, perceived support from the university and the department helped students feel more confident to seek help, which contributed to improvement in their learning.
As I argued previously, these findings demonstrate the highly instrumental role of a university in creating a safe space where BAME students feel encouraged and empowered in identifying and addressing issues directly affecting them. Universities have the potential to turn the negative implications of ethnicity into positive social capital that could effect profound changes in the experiences and outcomes of BAME students in higher education.
About the author
Hyun-Joo Lim is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Bournemouth University.