A report from the Royal Society found that only 1% of UK nationals eligible for its early career fellowship grants are BlackHush Naidoo/Unsplash

Sir Adrian Smith, president of the Royal Society, has appealed to the scientific community to improve access for Black graduates seeking STEM careers. The Royal Society is an organisation who seek to “recognise, promote and support excellence in science.”

Smith’s report, as seen by the Guardian, highlights that white students were twice as likely to graduate with first-class honours in STEM subjects in 2018/19, with Black students three times more likely to receive a third.

The Royal Society also found that only 1% of UK nationals eligible for its early career fellowship grants were Black, and just 12% were from any ethnic minority background. The grants are for “outstanding researchers” across the globe seeking funding for research.

Further statistics indicate underrepresentation of Black and Ethnic Minorities in academic careers, with only 1.7% of academic staff identifying as Black compared with 13.2% as Asian and 81.3% as white.

To help tackle this problem, the Royal Society plans to organise networking events and mentorship schemes aimed at supporting researchers from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Smith commented: “Talented Black people are not finding science careers in UK academia and that is unacceptable. Our reports show that Black people are more likely to drop out of science at all points of the career path.It is time that the whole science community comes together to find out why and put it right.”

Dr Mark Richards, a lecturer in physics at Imperial College London and a member of the Royal Society’s diversity committee suggests that poorer outcomes for Black undergraduates may result from poor academic and pastoral support from universities.

Richards adds that Black graduates might be deterred from academic careers because of their “opaque” structures that make it appear riskier than alternative STEM careers.

The Department for Education found that Black students had the lowest financial gain from attending university out of all ethnic groups, with lifetime gains averaging £50,000 compared to the £100,000 gained for white graduates. Overall, the report indicates that, on average, all socio-economic and ethnic groups benefit financially from going to university.


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This news comes as the University of Cambridge Black Alumni Network (CBAN) was launched last month. The network will offer social and professional events to create networking opportunities for Black alumni.

This academic year saw a record number of Black UK students admitted to the University, with 4.6% of the undergraduate cohort identifying as Black. A total of 137 Black British undergraduates began their studies at Cambridge in October 2020, meaning that there are now more than 300 Black British undergraduates across all year groups.

The University has been pushing to improve its outreach schemes, with notable successes such as Target Oxbridge helping 71 Black students gain Oxbridge offers for the 2021/22 academic year.

Howard Chae, BME Officer for the Cambridge SU, commented: “As the report [from the Royal Society] highlights, the barriers to access for Black students do not begin and end with admissions, and they need to be understood holistically as a structural problem which restricts opportunities at every stage of the student life-cycle.”

Chae said that he has worked with the University to support the launch of the Black Advisory Hub, but that “more needs to be done to address this issue at the structural level.”

He added: “The University should work with Black scholars (through collaboration with groups such as Leading Routes, Cambridge’s BAME Staff Network, and the Black Cantabs Research Society) in order to strengthen student support, assess its own funding structures, and promote calls for greater equity across the sector.”

The University has been contacted for comment.