On the 7th of December I attended BTEG’s third and final ‘Inspire and Challenge’ lecture marking the charity’s 25th anniversary. The lecture, at SOAS University of London, highlighted the difficulties experienced by young BAME people in the education system and employment compared with the far fewer barriers that young white people face.
Jeremy Crook OBE, BTEG’s Chief Executive opened with an eye-opening presentation of the current statistics regarding young BAME people’s lack of notable success in higher education and employment compared to white people. Some of the statistics highlighted included:
Guest speakers Femi Bola MBE, of the University of East London and Dr Sham Qayyum, of SOAS, detailed the ways in which educational institutions can equip ethnic minorities to succeed in the local and global workforce, as well as the effects of recent political events such as Brexit and the rise of right wing populism.
BAME people have always had a conscious awareness of our limited successes in higher education and employment and our underrepresentation in various sectors has always been apparent. Yet, as a young South Asian person, the substantial data – collected over several years – that irrefutably backs up that awareness is still incredibly disheartening. It is no wonder that BAME people leave college and university with a negative outlook of our chances of success in the job market, and the stereotypes that have inhibited us throughout our academic lives also do so in employment.
As young white people already have the statistical advantage of gaining professional positions right out of university it is all the more necessary for young BAME people take the initiative and responsibility to be aware of all potential opportunities available to us in the job market. Enhancing practical skills and a willingness to pursue entrepreneurial career paths is important, but it is also essential that we encourage strong self-belief and resilience both personally and within our communities.
To be clear, the onus of being responsible for our success is not entirely on us. As Femi Bola reiterated, schools and colleges have a responsibility to better prepare BAME students going into university for the challenges they will face. We are not walking the same paths as our parents, many of whom have had their own preferred visions of what their children should do with their lives. Schools and colleges need to work with BAME parents to help them to encourage their children to pursue their own ambitions and not fall into a spiral of regret by the end of their academic career.
Racism, and the unwillingness to increase awareness of racial discrimination on part of educational institutions, must be called out. Schools, colleges and universities have an obligation to scrutinise their own institutions to ensure young BAME people’s academic success is not hampered due to racism among staff and the student body, as well as take the initiative to give BAME students the tools and awareness to tackle discrimination in education, as well as the job market.