Russell Group unis have a serious diversity problem. These are the ones with the fewest BME students

Only eight per cent of Exeter students are BME


One in five of all UK based undergraduates at Russell Group universities identify as black and minority ethnic, an investigation by The Tab has found.

Many of our top universities are failing to create diverse and inclusive campuses, with some universities averaging less than 10 per cent BME enrolment.

Queen’s University Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Exeter and Newcastle ranked the worst universities for racial diversity, all with less than 10 per cent of their undergraduates coming from BME backgrounds.

The findings

The only two Scottish universities in the Russell Group, Edinburgh and Glasgow, rank second and third worst for diversity, with only seven and eight per cent of undergrads identifying as BME.

Fourth year Theology student, Yas Rana, commented: “I’m not surprised that Edinburgh is less diverse than other universities – it is something that I’ve noticed. Sports clubs and societies have surprisingly low number of people of BME students in my opinion. I’m not sure why Edinburgh is less diverse than other unis, but if I were to guess it’d be because Edinburgh, for some reason, attracts quite a high proportion of people from English boarding schools where there might be fewer BME students.

“Edinburgh as a city also has very few BME people in general compared to other large UK cities, so I imagine people from BME communities just have fewer links to the city.”

Only four per cent of people residing in Scotland come from minority ethnic backgrounds, according to the 2011 census, therefore it is possible there is a lack of BME intake for this reason.

Credit: King’s College African and Caribbean Society

Credit: King’s College African and Caribbean Society

The University of Exeter ranked the worst institution in England for diversity, and fourth from all 24 Russell Group universities, with only eight per cent of students coming from black and minority ethnic communities.

A University of Exeter spokesman commented: “The University of Exeter is committed to increasing the representation of BAME students. The proportion of our undergraduate entrants who were Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic in 2016 was 10.4 per cent and this has increased year on year for the last four years. We very much want this proportion to increase so that we improve further the representation of BME students within our university community.”

As with Edinburgh, low diversity can be due to a lack of local diversity. Exeter’s campuses are based in Devon and Cornwall. The population of Cornwall is 1.4 per cent Asian/Asian British and 0.7 per cent Black/Black British compared with a national average of 7.5 per cent and 3.3 per cent respectively.

Although scoring second lowest to Exeter, with nine per cent average BME intake, Newcastle University claim “recruiting and supporting the brightest and best students, regardless of background, is a key priority to Newcastle University.” They added their 2016 Widening Participation in the North East entry made “notable progress”, in encouraging pupils from “low participation neighbourhoods, from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and from students declaring a disability.”

Percentage of white students and BME students between 2011-16

In the Oxbridge rivalry, Cambridge scored higher than Oxford for diversity, with 17 per cent of Cambridge undergraduates identifying as BME, compared to 11 per cent at Oxford.

London universities Queen Mary, LSE, Imperial, King’s and UCL take the top five spots for BME enrolment, with LSE being the most diverse with an average 50 per cent split between BME and white students. Queen Mary had the highest intake of BME students, with 58 per cent of students identifying as black and minority ethnic.

According to the 2011 census, 45 per cent of people living in London were white British. Due to the larger proportion of black and minority ethnic communities living in London, it can be reasonably expected London universities have the most diverse campuses.

Credit: Oreoluwa Ogunbiyi / Cambridge ACS

Credit: Oreoluwa Ogunbiyi / Cambridge ACS

What is being done?

Universities are increasingly improving and updating their outreach programmes to engage more secondary school pupils, with the hope of them applying after A-Levels.

The University of Exeter have launched several partnership programmes to try and increase BME enrolment. One of the programmes aims to employ “a variety of interventions to raise aspirations; familiarise students and their families with the University and West Country more generally; improve subject-specific knowledge and attainment; create positive role models and provide support through the admissions process,” a university spokesperson told The Tab.

The university also has a residential programme for Birmingham and London Year 10 BME pupils, as “a major recruitment campaign with the aim of encouraging BAME students in particular to consider the University of Exeter as an option”, the university added.

Only eight per cent of students at Exeter are black and minority ethnic

Only eight per cent of students at Exeter are black and minority ethnic

At the University of York, where on average only 10 per cent of the undergraduate population is BME, outreach initiatives include summer school for secondary school pupils. A spokesperson from the university said: “Through our widening participation work we are actively seeking to engage more BME school pupils to participate in our programmes through our outreach work. This includes a five-day York Experience Summer School, where over 60 per cent of the participants are BME year 12 students, the Hackney University Extension Programme, and our links and activities with The Access Project.”

“Only six per cent of the York population self-identifies as non-white, and therefore our position in the Russell group with regard to BME entrants will be different to those institutions in larger cities with more culturally diverse populations.”

Here are the full results:

Data was provided by HESA for the years 2012-2016. An average of how many BME students were enrolled at the university over the four years was calculated, providing the final percentage as shown in the graph. HESA does not currently have the data for 2016/2017, which will be released later in the year.

Queen’s University Belfast ranked 1 per cent due to the data only being collected from UK domicile students only. A spokesperson for Queen’s University Belfast said: “The HESA Ethnicity data refers to UK domiciled students only and, as such, our figures are entirely consistent with the demographic of Northern Ireland. The vast majority of our UK students are Northern Ireland domiciled.”

Featured image credit: Oreoluwa Ogunbiyi / Cambridge ACS