Scientists call for action to address racial inequity in geosciences

A national team of researchers have called for immediate action to address a substantial level of under-representation in students in a new academic paper.

The group, including Keele’s Dr Steven Rogers, have highlighted the “shocking” levels of under-representation of students from ethnic minority backgrounds who are studying geosciences at undergraduate level in UK higher education, as well as a poor progression rate onto postgraduate study for these students.

The authors say that the study of geosciences is crucial to developing and delivering a sustainable future, but that the discipline has not “adequately dealt with the legacy of the past when it comes to diversity and inclusion”.

In their paper, published in Nature Geosciences, the experts have laid out steps to address this diversity crisis and make the discipline more equitable, and hope that the data they present will galvanise the UK geoscience community into action, and encourage other science disciplines to take similar steps.

Their data showed that in the 2018/19 academic year just 5.2% of physical geography postgraduates identified as black, Asian, or minority ethnic, despite these groups comprising 18.5% of the UK 18-24 year-old population. Over the past five years on average just 1.4% of geology postgraduate researchers identified as black, compared to 3.8% of UK 18-24 year olds.

The authors recommend a range of interventions, including decolonisation work, ring-fenced opportunities for ethnic minority students, and meaningful reform of discriminatory recruitment and accreditation practices.

Lead author Dr Natasha Dowey from Sheffield Hallam University said: “It’s about time these data are scrutinised. We see the lack of diversity every day in our university corridors. Our subjects are built on a legacy of imperialism and are impacted by structural barriers that discriminate against minority groups. It’s up to the entire geoscience community to make anti-racist changes and be positive allies to black, Asian and minority ethnic students and colleagues.”

Professor Chris Jackson of the University of Manchester, a co-author on the paper and recently the first black scientist to give a Royal Institution Christmas Lecture, added: “Some people will only act against discrimination if they are presented with hard data. Here are those data, starkly outlining an issue that has been known for a long, long time. Those in power, who are invariably in the white majority, must now act.”

Dr Steven Rogers, Lecturer in Geology at Keele University and a co-author of the paper added: “A sustainable future relies on diverse individuals with complementary experience, knowledge, resources and vision. The geosciences currently lack this diversity, we need to create an environment that is accessible, inclusive and attractive to all. This work highlights the issue in a visible manner and provides some actions which can be implemented across institutions.”

Picture source: Dowey et al (2021).