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Ethnic minorities relatively unlikely to work at Russell Group universities, new study of academic economists shows

Arun Advani, Assistant Professor at the University of Warwick

Ethnic minorities form a growing proportion of UK academic economists, though some remain heavily under-represented in the most prestigious institutions 

Among economists in UK universities, nearly a quarter (24 per cent) doing research are from non-White backgrounds, an increase of 5 percentage points since 2012. This is higher than academia overall and the general population. Reflecting a broader pattern in UK academia, Chinese and Indian ethnicity individuals are overrepresented, while Black individuals are underrepresented.

Ethnic diversity among economists matters particularly because economists play an important role in the formulation of policy. Diversity within the profession has wider implications for society.

New research published by IFS, co-funded by the Royal Economics Society and the Economic and Social Research Council through the CPP Research Centre at IFS, highlights inequalities between ethnic groups in UK university economics departments.

Lack of data from outside of universities means providing a broader survey of the profession is not currently possible.

  • There are clear differences in the type of roles held by ethnic minority staff compared to White staff – as is the case across much of UK academia. Black economists are 64 per cent less likely to work in Russell Group institutions than White ones and ethnic minority economists are less likely to hold senior academic or managerial positions. 
  • Among undergraduate students, economics is a relatively popular field of study among ethnic minorities, with non-white students accounting for 37 per cent of British undergraduates in 2018. In fact, it is among White students – and White women in particular – where take-up of economics is lowest. However, ethnic minority students are much less likely to continue into further study. 

The research also highlights a number of other differences in experience between different ethnic minority groups:

  •  As with research staff, some ethnic minority groups are less likely to study economics in Russell Group universities. Bangladeshi undergraduates are half as likely as White students to do so; Black Caribbeans are more than 60 per cent less likely.
  •  The presence of potential role models from similar backgrounds as students varies, with Pakistanis and Black Caribbeans underrepresented among those teaching economics.
  •  There are persistent and growing attainment gaps for economics students from minority ethnic backgrounds compared to White students. Black Caribbean students were 24 percentage points less likely to get a first-class degree in 2018, and such gaps cannot be explained by characteristics like institution attended or prior attainment.
  • Data from the Government Economic Service (GES) made available by them for this research, highlights differential success in the recruitment process of one significant employer of economists and suggests another important obstacle after university. In 2018, 22% of White applicants who passed the initial assessment through the Fast Stream were successful; 8% of non-White applicants were.

Ross Warwick, a Research Economist at the IFS, said:

“Ethnic diversity among economists matters particularly because economists often play an important role in the formulation of policy. Overall academic economists in the UK are relatively ethnically diverse compared to other fields and the population as a whole.

“However, some groups remain underrepresented, such as Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Black Caribbeans, reflecting a broader pattern across the academic sector. Those from many ethnic minorities are also relatively unlikely to work at Russell Group universities.”  

Arun Advani, Assistant Professor at the University of Warwick and co-chair of the Discover Economics campaign, said:

“Our research shows that ethnic minority students are more likely than White students to study economics at the undergraduate level.

“However, they are less likely to study at Russell Group universities, to get top degrees, or to go on to further study. Further research is required to better understand the causes of these differences ”

Carol Propper, President of the Royal Economics Society, said

“The Royal Economic Society is committed to improving diversity in UK economics. This enquiry into the state of economics in Universities is part of our current actions to achieve this end. We would like to thank the Government Economic Service (GES), who has made the details of its recruitment data available for this research.”

A spokesperson for the GES said:

“The GES welcomes this analysis and the Royal Economic Society’s actions to draw attention to issues of ethnicity in economics and the importance of economists being more representative of society. This is why the GES has made the details of its recruitment data available for this research.

“The GES puts diversity and inclusion at the heart of our work and is taking action to deliver this, including through creating a degree-level economic apprenticeship entry route which has now been running for two years”. 

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