A PIONEERING new project which aims to break down barriers and support the next generation of black researchers is being spearheaded by a university.

Transitions and Transformations: The Black Researcher’s Journey first emerged from in-depth discussions held at the University of Essex.

The conversation centred on the need to address the failure of UK universities to consistently support black students to success and into research professions.

According to UK Research and Innovation’s recent diversity report just four per cent of students starting postgraduate research courses in 2018-19 were black.

The latest HESA figures also report there are only 155 black professors currently operating in UK universities out of 22,810.

Harwich and Manningtree Standard: University of EssexUniversity of Essex

Since the launch of the University of Essex initiative, which has been developed on lived experiences of black academics within Essex, it has been selected for funding.

The scheme is one of 13 inequality-tackling projects across the UK being supported by Research England and the Office for Students.

As a result of the financial backing, in addition to money from the university and its external partners, it has just been granted just shy of £1millions in investment.

The windfall will now be used by the transformative project’s dedicated team to tackle persistent inequalities that create barriers for black students.

Sophie Kabangu, black officer at the University of Essex’s Students’ Union, said: “The project is an amazing opportunity for black students.

“It will show black students that their needs are being heard and they have the chance to become successful researchers.

“It will also give black students the confidence and support that they need - as a black student, I understand the importance of this.

“At times, higher education can feel like an environment I do not belong in, as I was never taught by black lecturers.

“It is hard to imagine yourself being something if you are not being represented in those spaces.

“This project can be a step in the right direction with there being more black and ethnic minorities represented in research.”

Harwich and Manningtree Standard: Sophie Kabangu, black officer at the University of Essex’s Students’ UnionSophie Kabangu, black officer at the University of Essex’s Students’ Union

The initiative is being developed by a whole host of experts and will be supported by a board that includes members of the university’s Tackling Racism Working Group.

Black researchers such as Professor Winifred Eboh and Dr Hannah Gibson, as well as black alumni, are also closely involved in the project.

Once in motion, the scheme will aim to provide black students and staff with training, funding and mentoring and career opportunities.

The team will also look to package the approach as bold and ambitious model which university leaders across the world can implement at their institutions.

Professor Sanja Bahun, dean of postgraduate research and education and project lead, said the importance of the scheme could not be underestimated.

“Our community and partners want to take bold and far-reaching actions to challenge underrepresentation,” she added.

“We want to make sure talented black students have opportunities to fulfil potential and achieve their aspirations in higher education and research-related organisations.”