GuildHE’s new research ‘Understanding the lived experience of ethnic minority students in postgraduate research’ captures for the first time students’ perceptions and experiences of studying a postgraduate research degree at smaller and specialist higher education institutions.

The research was commissioned from the Institute for Community Studies. The report has been co-designed and co-authored by peer researchers, a group of eight current postgraduate researchers from GuildHE institutions, with the support of Civic Scholars and researchers at the Institute.

Victoria Boelman, Director of Research at The Young Foundation, says: “We’re proud to have collaborated with GuildHE on this pioneering peer research and hope the findings will inform policies and processes that improve the experiences of ethnic minority postgraduate students. This research not only deepens our understanding of the challenges faced by ethnic minority postgraduate students but also makes recommendations that small and specialist institutions can incorporate into action plans. By doing so, these institutions can make a tangible difference to the experiences of current and future ethnic minority students.”

The experience of postgraduate research for students from underrepresented communities at smaller and specialist institutions is an area not examined previously. Existing studies focus on research intensive institutions, and on students who are predominantly funded by the research councils. It is hard for smaller and specialist institutions to draw meaningful conclusions from sector data, not only because there are fewer students per institution, but also because the students have usually followed a different path to research. The study works with these challenges, using a peer research methodology to place the student voice at the heart of the research process and the report. The findings are powerful and the recommendations draw directly from what the students would like to see change.

Susanna Mariam Matthan, peer researcher and research student at Bishop Grosseteste University said: “It has been a privilege to have participated in this research, spending time listening to the experiences of fellow students. Voices can only be heard if others are willing to listen and implement meaningful change. I hope that PGR student voices will be amplified even further through this collaborative work, enabling greater access, enjoyment and a deeper love of learning.”

GuildHE Research, GuildHE’s research consortium for smaller and specialist universities and colleges, is committed to act upon the students’ recommendations. A network for postgraduate students from ethnic minority backgrounds and underrepresented groups will be created and embedded in the consortium. The report is invaluable for GuildHE’s ongoing anti-racism work, providing evidence of specific challenges that can be effectively articulated to funders, sector bodies, and policy makers.

GuildHE’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion champion Professor Nick Braisby, Vice-Chancellor of Buckinghamshire New University said: “GuildHE embarked upon an anti-racism programme in 2020 to support members to take positive actions against all forms of discrimination. This research is a testament to our commitment to raise and address the significant challenges faced by individuals from communities that are underrepresented in higher education. I thank the students for their candour and trust, and look forward to working with colleagues across GuildHE to act on the recommendations which align with creating anti-racist Universities, as well as addressing the particular needs of the postgraduate research student community.”

Notes to Editors

GuildHE is an officially recognised representative body for UK Higher Education. Our members include universities, university colleges, further education colleges and specialist institutions from both the traditional and private sectors. Member institutions include some major providers in professional subject areas including art, design and media, music and the performing arts; agriculture and food; the built environment; education; maritime; health and sports. Teaching staff that are often industry professionals and are close to the industries they serve.

GuildHE Research, a sub-association of GuildHE, is the research consortium for smaller and specialist higher education institutions. We engage the full diversity of our institutions, people, and places in research and innovation, and advocate for the recognition and support of excellent research wherever it is found. We help our members to embed a positive and constructive research culture, develop robust research and innovation strategies, and establish appropriate infrastructure through which they can drive forward their ambitions.

The Institute for Community Studies is powered by and part of the not-for-profit organisation, The Young Foundation. It’s a new kind of research institute, with people at its heart. The Institute gives increasing weight to the stories, experience and evidence created in communities, supported through its national network of researchers. It provokes direct engagement with business and those influencing change, bridging the gap between communities, evidence and policy making