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Unite Students launches commission to support national change following ‘Living Black at University’ report

12 April 2022

  • 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 (pictured), 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 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.”


For further information, please contact Unite Students press office

Tel: +44 117 450 6300

Notes to Editors

About Unite Students

Unite Students is the UK’s largest owner, manager and developer of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) serving the country’s world-leading higher education sector. We provide homes to 74,000 students across 172 properties in 25 leading university towns and cities. We currently partner with over 60 universities across the UK.

Our people are driven by a common purpose: to provide a ‘Home for Success’ for the students who live with us. Unite Students’ accommodation is safe and secure, high quality, and affordable. Students live predominantly in en-suite study bedrooms with rents covering all bills, insurance, 24-hour security and high-speed wi-fi. We also achieved a five-star British Safety Council rating in our last audit in 2020.

We are committed to raising standards in the student accommodation sector for our customers, investors and employees. This is why our new Sustainability Strategy, launched in 2021, which includes our social impact strategy with a significant focus on providing opportunities for all.

Founded in 1991 in Bristol, the Unite Group is an award-winning Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT), listed on the London Stock Exchange. For more information, visit Unite Group’s corporate website or the Unite Students’ site

About Professor Iyiola Solanke

Professor Iyiola Solanke is Chair in EU Law and Social Justice in the School of Law and Dean for Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) at the University of Leeds, where she researches and teach on EU Law, Discrimination Law, Race and Law and Alternative Dispute Resolution.

She recently chaired the inquiry into the history of eugenics at University College London, and is leading two research projects: Co-POWeR, an ESRC-funded project looking into the impact of COVID on practices for wellbeing and resilience in Black, Asian and minority ethnic families and communities; and Generation Delta, a RE/OfS-funded project promoting access to PGR study for BAME women. She founded the Black Female Professors Forum in 2017, and joined the HEPI Advisory Board in 2021.

Professor Solanke has recently been appointed to the Jacques Delors Chair of EU Law at the University of Oxford and will take up post on 1st August 2022.