From education to employment

New first-of-its-kind anti racism course designed to drive cultural change


Santander, through Santander Universities UK, and The Open University today announce the launch of Union Black: Britain’s Black Cultures and Steps to Anti-Racism, a free online education programme for all university communities across the UK, designed to drive cultural change across the higher education sector.

Developed in partnership with The Open University and leading social learning platform, FutureLearn, the programme responds to Universities UK’s “Tackling racial harassment in higher education” report(1)  which shone a stark light on the racial inequalities that exist across the higher education sector. The report called on universities to improve racial literacy among senior leaders, staff and students and issued a set of recommendations for institutions to implement including “training developed from an anti-racist perspective”.

The new course will explore Black cultures in Britain and provide learners with an understanding of the origins and experience of Black British history and dispel myths in order to inform, challenge and contribute to the anti-racism agenda.

The programme has been developed by leading academics including Professor Marcia Wilson, Dean of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at The Open University and includes contributions from BAFTA-award-winning film-maker David Olusoga, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice David Lammy MP, human rights activist Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, artistic director of The Young Vic Kwame Kwei-Armah, and former England goalkeeper David James MBE, among many others. The course has also been guided by a steering committee including Baroness Valerie Amos and Karen Blackett OBE. The presenter of the course is TV host and former Blue Peter presenter Ayo Akinwolere.

Hosted on FutureLearn, the six-hour course will be delivered through a mixture of online learning content, discussion forums, reading materials and interactive activities, and will be freely available to all staff and students at UK universities over the next three years, making it the first programme of its kind to potentially reach over four million students across the UK.

All students who complete the course will also have the opportunity to considered for one of 100 Santander Development Grants of £500 each(3)  to support their studies. The awards are being offered by Santander Universities, and administered via The Open University, where awarded students will be invited to take part in a live thought leadership event which will bring together high-profile ambassadors for a curated panel discussion.

Matt Hutnell, Director, Santander Universities UK, said:

“Through all our programmes and initiatives Santander Universities aims to help drive a fair, diverse, and transformative educational landscape. Given Santander’s unique relationship with universities across the UK we identified an opportunity to support institutions to implement Universities UK’s guidance on tackling racial harassment and addressing racial inequality in higher education. We are pleased to be working in partnership with The Open University and FutureLearn on this key initiative and to be able to offer Union Black, not only to our University Partners, but to all universities across the UK.”

Professor Marcia Wilson, Dean of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at The Open University commented:

We are so proud to have created Union Black in partnership with Santander Universities and FutureLearn. Discussing your cultural traditions, whatever your background, is an accessible and engaging way to start a conversation around racism and what it means to you – and we hope this course encourages that behaviour. Giving free access to education and training to students and staff is important if we want to bring about real change in institutions across the UK.”

Union Black course presenter Ayo Akinwolere said:

“I’m delighted to be the presenter of Union Black. It has been a mission of mine for many years to equal the playing field within society. The more we have meaningful conversations, the better we can understand where we’re lacking and furthermore implement the real change that’s needed.”

Yvonne Chien, Chief Growth Officer at FutureLearn, said:

“At FutureLearn, we are dedicated to transforming access to education in order to empower individuals to work towards a better future for all. We are thrilled that Santander and The Open University have chosen FutureLearn to host the Union Black course which aims to promote further understanding and cultural change in the education sector. FutureLearn’s social learning platform, which reaches over 17 million learners and achieves high engagement rates and satisfaction scores of more than 90 per cent across our courses, is the ideal platform to help educators and learners change their lives and change the world.”

Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill said:

“I’m pleased to support Santander’s Union Black initiative. Encouraging conversations and opening dialogue is key a part of tackling racism. It’s fantastic the course will be freely accessible to so many students and staff across the UK, building an increased level of understanding and further steps towards making a difference.”

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