University reading lists dominated by white European men

University reading lists are not representative of the student body and tend towards overrepresentation of white, male and Eurocentric viewpoints, a new study from UCL has found.

The study, published in Higher Education, analysed 144 authors of Social Science papers and 146 authors of Science papers included in two university reading lists, gathering data on gender, ethnicity and the country in which the researchers’ affiliated institutions were based.

The study found that in all areas where clear conclusions could be drawn, both Social Science and Science reading lists were not representative of the student population.

Co-author, Dr Karen Schucan Bird, (UCL Institute of Education), said: "This study shows that higher education institutions and agencies need to develop coherent and consistent strategies which can move the whole sector towards programmes of study which are both more inclusive and more diverse.

"Universities also need to engage in discussions about what a ’diverse / inclusive / decolonised’ reading list actually looks like, engaging with both staff and students to ensure clarity and commitment from all.

"Away from universities themselves, there are wider structural barriers and inequalities in knowledge production. Academic publishing needs to acknowledge their part in promoting viewpoints from the ’Global North’ and introduce initiatives to help bring marginalised perspectives into the mainstream of academic thought."

The study found that:

  • Only 7% of Social Science authors reviewed were BAME researchers, versus a student population which is 39% BAME for UK domiciled students.
  • 50% of reviewed Social Science authors were female, versus a student population which is 66% female.
  • 99% of reviewed Social Science authors were affiliated to European, North American or Australasian universities, versus a postgraduate student population which is 67% overseas students (69% of which are non-European).
  • 70% of reviewed Science authors were male, including 12 publications authored by the same team of male biologists. This contrasts with a student population which is over 60% female nationally and 67% female at the university from which the reading list was taken.
  • 90% of reviewed Science authors were from European, North American or Australasian universities. Whilst national data doesn’t exist, 32% of students at the university from which the reading list was taken were from outside the EU.

UCL has embedded numerous initiatives to promote inclusivity, including the BME Attainment Project, a ’Liberating the Curriculum’ working group and an ’Inclusive curriculum health check’ across the university, which are designed to support UCL staff to embed the principles of inclusivity in all aspects of the academic cycle.

The health check Encourages staff to, ’Have reading lists and resources that contain a diverse range of authors including those from different ethnicities, from outside the UK and from non-academic sources where relevant’.


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