GRADUATING WHILST BLACK

by Candice Nembhard

I graduated! I actually graduated. Mortarboard thrown, picture taken, congratulatory conversations with parents and friends and then you hear the dreaded, “What are you doing next?”

It’s not that I have never given much thought to what would come post-university — quite the opposite. The last few months prior to dressing in my cap and gown have been filled with endless job applications, copious redrafts of my CV and looking into Masters programmes both in the UK and elsewhere – I cannot be the only one. I am certain the same can be said of other BAME students whose road to graduate employment is a lot more uncertain and suspiciously taxing.

A recent study by The Trades Union Congress (TUC) suggested that unemployment for BME graduates was at 5.9 per cent, comparative to 2.3 per cent for white graduates. As a result, black British and Asian graduates are likely to earn a lower starting salary and are two and a half times more likely to be unemployed, irrespective of their qualification and final grade. Whereas on the one hand, this does not surprise me — what remains painful to discuss is the lack of genuine initiative on behalf of graduate schemes, governmental organisations, and companies to address the abhorrent racism within job recruitment.

18642071253_f4db93418a_k

(via iser.essex.ac.uk)

The TUC’s general secretary Frances O’Grady said:

Race still plays a huge role in determining pay […] The harsh reality is that at any level of education, black and Asian workers are getting paid less than their white counterparts […] The government cannot afford to ignore these figures and must now take genuine action to tackle pay discrimination
(BBC News, February 2016)

Even if the government were to take action to reduce discrimination, one only has to look at the current British cabinet, parliament, university departments and high street stores to see the ongoing problem with diversity. We’ve built a system that promotes hard work and ambition but still supports and favours money, familial bonds and subsequently prejudice. This study is not a stand-alone assessment. Informal tests to assess discrimination in the application process have concluded that applicants with ‘white-sounding’ names are more likely to be called for an interview than applicants with ‘ethnic-sounding’ names. This remains even if both candidates have similar qualifications and years of experience.

We’ve built a system that promotes hard work and ambition but still supports and favours money, familial bonds and subsequently prejudice.

Furthermore, these studies have specifically focused on the racial divide. Another study conducted by the Institute for Social and Economic Research by the University of Essex suggested we ought to look further into the racial/gender barriers concerning graduates.

“The employment gaps are slightly larger for women than for men although the patterns are the same. Black Caribbean graduates face the smallest gap of around 3-4 percentage points (p.p.) and Pakistani and Bangladeshi the largest gap as they are 10 to 15 p.p. less likely to be employed than white British graduates.

“Six months after graduation, ethnic minority graduates are on average significantly less likely to be employed than white British graduates. The employment gaps are slightly larger for women than for men, although the patterns are the same. Black Caribbean graduates face the smallest gap of around 3-4% and Pakistani and Bangladeshi graduates the largest gap, as they are 10% to 15% less likely to be employed than white British graduates. At three-and-a-half years after graduation, we still find employment gaps, although they are smaller. Among women all groups – except for Bangladeshi and Chinese – are significantly less likely to be employed. For men, the largest gaps are for black African graduates, who are still 9% less likely to be employed than white British graduates.”
(Wouter Zwysen and Simonetta Longhi, Labour market disadvantage of ethnic minority British Graduates, University of Essex, January 2016)

In the last year, black students have dealt with much unrest. From #rhodesmustfall to #BlackLivesMatter, black and other minority students are now demanding their voice be heard. Education should be a right for all. So why does the recent verdict on increasing tuition fees to £9,250 a year (supported by the likes of Durham and Manchester university) seem to support the restriction of BAME students into high earning roles?

(Illustration © Patrick Koduah)

In a post-Brexit climate students, both BAME and otherwise, now face Britain’s potential expulsion from the Erasmus scheme — which sees over 120,000 students studying at foreign institutions — of which fees are covered by the European Union. UK director, Ruth Sinclair-Jones remarked that Britain’s exit from the scheme would be a ‘devastating tragedy’ — especially in consideration of the scheme’s ability to host/support students from low income and ethnic backgrounds.

It all remains the same, that we are not doing enough to help BAME into and out of education. Moreover it would seem that we are purposefully cutting ties and avenues to schemes that are designed to help cultures cross in favour of producing similar groups of people with similar ideals. We need to push the next generation of forward thinkers whose minds are in tune with a global existence.

we are not doing enough to help BAME into and out of education

No doubt, more and more companies both British and international are now reaching out to BAME students as part of their recruitment process — but is it out of legitimacy or diversity quotas and tokenism? Whereas I can see the merit in these outreaches, surely we should augment the recruitment process so one would not need to recruit graduates on the basis of their race, unless the job at hand specifically required it?

All in all, I am deeply grateful for my time in higher education. Although it has taught and reinforced that the odds are stacked against me, at the end of it all, I walked on that stage, diploma in hand with a smile on my face.

Featured image © Flickr / Yasmeen

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