Bangladeshi, Pakistani economists under-represented at top UK varsities

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An increasing number of academic economists in UK universities come from non-white backgrounds, however, some groups such as Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and African-Caribbeans remain under-represented in Britain’s most prestigious institutions, new research has revealed.

The study conducted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that individuals of Chinese and Indian ethnicity were overrepresented while those of black were under-represented, especially in the Russell Group, a self-selecting association of 24 institutions including Oxford and Cambridge.

Ross Warwick, an IFS research economist, 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 under-represented, such as Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and black Caribbeans, reflecting a broader pattern across the academic sector.”

The IFS said there were continued and growing attainment gaps for economics students from minority ethnic backgrounds compared with white students.

African-Caribbean students were 24 percentage points less likely to get a first-class degree in 2018, and the gaps could not be explained by characteristics like institution attended or prior attainment.

The research, which was co-funded by the Royal Economic Society and the Economic and Social Research Council, found clear differences in the type of roles held by ethnic minority staff compared to white staff.

Black economists were 64 per cent less likely to work in Russell Group universities than white ones, while ethnic minority economists were less likely to hold senior academic or managerial positions.

Bangladeshi undergraduates were half as likely as white students to study economics in Russell Group universities, while African-Caribbeans were more than 60 per cent less likely.

Arun Advani, assistant professor at the University of Warwick and co-chair of Discover Economics, a campaign to increase diversity in economics, 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.”

Many economics students apply for jobs with the Government Economic Service, which provided data for the study. This showed 22 per cent of white applicants who passed the initial assessment through the fast stream were successful, against 8 per cent for non-white applicants.

The IFS said this suggested another important obstacle after university.