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Why are there still so few black scientists in the UK?

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April 10, 2021 at 04:00PM

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There have been many reports but little action: UK university science departments need to do more to fix their serious diversity problem

The Nobel laureate poet Sir Derek Walcott once said that the English language is nobody’s special property: “It is the property of the imagination.” Much the same could be said for science. It should be said. Except this isn’t quite so. Not yet.

Data on who is doing science has recently been released by the Royal Society, the UK’s premier scientific academy, using figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, whose data is by far the most systematic. The numbers show that in 2018-19, 19.2% of science, technology, engineering and maths academic staff aged 34 and under are Asian and 1.8% are black. In physics and chemistry, the proportion of black researchers stands at a sobering zero, rounded down, as these calculations do for ease of presentation, from literally one or two individuals. What’s interesting is that these small figures decrease further as a scientist’s age increases – as they travel through the hallowed halls of academia to become senior scientists. So while the UK has 10,560 science professors who are white, only 960 are Asian, 310 mixed and “other” and 65 black. This says that minorities who enter science are less likely to get promoted. Fewer of them go on to become those experts who evaluate which next-generation scientists should then get the training, the money and the jobs. “Unless this changes,” the Royal Society says, “there will be unbalanced representation of academic staff between ethnic groups working in higher education in comparison to the ethnic breakdown of the general population.”

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