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Unite Student launches national commission for change following Living Black at University report

  • The Unite Students Commission on Living Black at University aims to improve the experience for Black students living in UK student accommodation
  • It will be chaired by Professor Iyiola Solanke, founder of the Black Female Professors Forum
  • Commissioners have been drawn from national organisations including Advance HE, Unipol and Student Minds.

Unite Students has launched a national commission to support the higher education and private student accommodation sectors’ response to its recently published Living Black at University report. The initiative aligns with the company’s strong emphasis on social impact and commitment to ‘providing opportunities for all’ detailed in its Sustainability Strategy published last year.

The commission, convened and supported by Unite Students, will be chaired by Professor Iyiola Solanke, who is Professor of European Union Law and Social Justice and Dean of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Leeds. She is also the founder of the Black Female Professors Forum.

Joining her are Commissioners drawn from key national organisations including Unipol, Advance HE and Student Minds, and professional bodies including the Association for Student Residential Accommodation (ASRA), College and University Business Officers (CUBO) and Association of Managers of Student Services in Higher Education (AMOSSHE). The commission also involves two projects of national significance, Newcastle University’s Race Equality Charter accommodation initiative, and London South Bank University’s Office for Students (OfS) funded project on Black student mental health. The Office of the Independent Adjudicator is supporting work on complaints resolution.  Together they have formed the ‘Unite Students Commission on Living Black at University’.

Announced earlier in February, the report found a majority (54%) of Black students had experienced some form of racism in their accommodation, while three-quarters reported some level of impact on their mental health as a result. The report produced ten recommendations to improve the experience of Black students in accommodation, and the Commission will take actions at the national level that will support institutions and accommodation providers to embed the recommendations locally. (Full report available here).

The commission, whose members will meet every two months for the next 12 months, aims to improve the experience for Black students in UK student accommodation by, for example:

  • Socialising the findings and recommendations of the research, creating an appetite for change
  • Embedding the Living Black at University report recommendations into relevant standards and codes
  • Embedding the recommendations into national training and professional development programmes
  • Finding opportunities within existing national data collection initiatives to track the effectiveness of efforts to improve the student accommodation experience for Black students
  • Drawing on pilot projects and complementary research to develop and share good practice guidance and examples across the sector

Professor Iyiola Solanke, chair of the Unite Students Commission on Living Black at University, said:

“At every level of education – including university level – a safe home environment is crucial to student success. By making a concerted effort to embed the report’s recommendations into the foundations of purpose-built student accommodation, we will move closer to ensuring that all Black students benefit from a context in which they can achieve their potential at university and in society.

“Student accommodation does not exist in a vacuum. Universities can and must do more to ensure that Black students feel seen, heard and safe. The push to decolonise the curriculum must be replicated across other areas of the university experience, especially accommodation, which is so crucial to student success.”

Jenny Shaw, Higher Education External Engagement Director at Unite Students, said:

“The Living Black at University research we commissioned from Halpin Partnership showed that Black students have a poorer experience than their White peers in student accommodation, and that this negatively affects their wider student experience. This is clearly unacceptable, and I believe it is an issue we can, and must, address as a sector.

“We have convened the Commission to take actions at a national level that will support universities and accommodation providers to improve the experience for Black students.”

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