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Living Black at University report: What you need to know

3 February 2022

Today, Unite Students has published ‘Living Black at University’, major new research looking into Black students’ experience in UK student accommodation, commissioned by Unite Students and carried out by Halpin Partnership. Here’s an overview of what you need to know about the report, and where you can find out more.


Why we commissioned the Living Black at University report

Race has hardly been an unfamiliar topic in the UK’s Higher Education sector over the past decade. From the awarding gap between White and Black students, to the movement to decolonise the curriculum, to the Rhodes Must Fall movement at the University of Oxford’s Oriel College, the sector’s relationship with race routinely made headlines prior to 2020.

At Unite Students, we had been conducting interviews and focus groups with students on themes of safety and community in early 2020, and some of the things we hear in these sessions indicated that Black students had a different experience in some respects from their White peers. The experience of Black students in student accommodation was something that had never been researched before. In light of these findings, as well as the devastating murder of George Floyd and subsequent worldwide Black Lives Matter protests, we resolved to commission research on this topic.

By undertaking the Living Black at University research, we wanted not only to understand Black students’ experience in their student accommodation, but to use these findings to make informed recommendations about how the experience could be improved.

Read more about our reasons for commissioning Living Black at University in Jenny Shaw’s new blog for the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI).


About the report

The report shares some concerning findings, including clear evidence of racism, cultural insensitivity, and exclusion experienced by Black students living in student accommodation. 54% of Black students surveyed reported having been the victim of some form of racism in their accommodation, while three-quarters reported some level of impact on their mental health due to racism – compounded by a lack of Black therapists who had their own experience of these issues.

Watch our summary video of the findings here:

We commissioned a specialist team from Halpin Partnership to undertake the research between May and August 2021. An ethnically diverse sample of students who had lived in university halls of residence (72%) or purpose-built student accommodation (28%) was engaged for quantitative field research, along with student accommodation staff. This was followed up by qualitative focus groups with self-selecting Black students and graduates. By focusing on qualitative data, we could give Black students a platform from which to amplify their voices and experiences to the Higher Education sector.

The report includes 10 recommendations which can be implemented by universities, sector bodies and accommodation providers.


What next?

At Unite Students, we are committed to taking action in a number of ways, and are working to implement these recommendations into our own policies and procedures – as well as calling on UK universities and accommodation providers to collaborate on addressing these issues.

We are in the process of convening a national working group to enact sector-wide change through codes, standards and good practice, and are currently working on a pilot project with Newcastle University to build the report’s recommendations into their own work on inclusive accommodation.

In light of the report’s findings and recommendations on Black students’ mental health, Unite Students have made a long-term commitment to improving the provision of mental health support for Black students by investing in the training of therapists of Black heritage. We are also developing a Diversity Leadership Programme for employees of Black heritage as part of our commitment to greater ethnic diversity in leadership roles; you can read more about our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion work in our interview with Sam Kingsley, ED&I and Wellbeing Manager at Unite Students.

The findings of this research may be uncomfortable to read, but we at Unite Students truly hope that this report can act as the first step towards making student accommodation across the UK a more inclusive, welcoming and safe space for Black students.

You can download the full Living Black at University report here.

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