Olivia Bridge says post-Brexit UK immigration rules undermine efforts to make the UK’s national curriculum more diverse
Black, Asian and other minority ethnic people in the UK have long tried to highlight racial discrimination that is at large in the UK – from education and the workplace to treatment in the NHS and the criminal justice system.
Indeed, students and teachers alike have been subjected to discrimination by their peers; black employees face disproportionate barriers to promotions; and black patients are less likely to be taken seriously by healthcare professionals when in need of medical attention. While black women are five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth, black men are three times more likely to die from Covid-19 – and twice as likely in police custody. Stop and search initiatives in the police have further spiked cases of ‘racial profiling’, where black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals are more likely to be stopped than white people, and then be handed a disproportionate sentence by white law enforcers if they are found to be guilty of any crime.
Yet despite incidents relating to racism and hate crime shooting up in the aftermath of the 2016 EU referendum, it took the murder of George Floyd in the US to finally give this conversation momentum.
One initiative that has sparked off the back of the Black Lives Matter protests is the Black Curriculum campaign. Campaigners want to see children from reception all the way up to A-Level taught an equal account of black lives and black history, in the hope it will stamp out racism and/or prevent it from being learned in the next generation.
But even more than that, the current modules on offer by GCSE exam boards are doing a huge disservice to British youth, who are taught a watered-down version of their own history. Statistics gathered by the Guardian show that a meagre 28,412 (11%) of current GCSE students study modules that reference black people’s contribution to the UK. Of all 59 history modules outlined by Edexcel, AQA and OCR, only twelve reference black history – seven of which with a skewed focus on the US and transatlantic slave trade, leaving an underwhelming five to discuss black people existing in Britain. The most popular exam board, Edexcel, doesn’t even mention black people in the UK whatsoever.
Instead, the curriculum remains blinkered – and outdated – in its focus on teaching the 19th century and Shakespeare. Macpherson recommended amending the National Curriculum to “value cultural diversity” and “prevent racism” in the late 1990s, yet rather than progress forward, in 2014 the Home Office diluted it and placed greater emphasis on “imperial heroes”. Ged Grebby, Chief Executive of Show Racism the Red Card, reiterates that “things haven’t moved on” since the charity began teaching anti-racism in schools in 1996, and despite a backlash from teachers to the 2014 curriculum update, teaching black history to our youth of today not only became optional by default, but was sidelined and delegated, left to be consigned to one singular, annual lesson during Black History Month.
Lavinya Stennett, founder of The Black Curriculum, said: “The school curriculum is very whitewashed, and black history is usually either omitted entirely or taught only in terms of colonialism and slavery, rather than black people’s achievements.”
Yet implementing structural changes to the curriculum takes time and money – two things most UK schools are in severe shortage of. Besides, hopes of a reform have been dampened by the Government’s own insistence that the curriculum is “already incredibly diverse“.
However, even if the UK were to tweak the curriculum, any efforts made are vastly undermined by the lack of representation of black teachers, academics and professors in universities and schools.
Consider that of the 217,000 and 223,000 academic and non-academic staff recruited in 2019, less than 1% (0.7%) were black, while 85% identified as white. And the disparity doesn’t end there: 1 in 9 white academic staff hold top positions as professors compared to 1 in 3 black staff, white academics take home an average of £49,000 as opposed to the £42,000 on offer to their black counterparts and white researchers enjoy a success rate of 27% for a research grant in comparison to the 17% success rate of black researchers. The odds appear stacked against black professionals at every turn: they are paid less, less likely to be promoted, less likely to hold a senior role and are less likely to be awarded a research grant.
However, here to throw another spanner into the diversity imbalance are the post-Brexit immigration rules. Pencilled in for January 2021 is a new points-based system under which all non-British individuals will require a visa and immigration permission to enter and remain in the country. In other words, professors, researchers, teachers and all supporting academic staff will need to accumulate 70 points to be eligible for a UK Work Visa – and will need to pay extortionate fees for the privilege throughout the duration of their time in the country.
The same can be said for EU students who will no longer be eligible for Student Finance, and will need to pay international student fees and for the Student Visa. This prospect alone has many universities fearing a dramatic decline in interest, with some estimating between 60% and 84% dip in EU youth. If this becomes the case, university campuses will not only face a dilution of people from different cultures and countries, but will also lose billions in revenue.
The situation appears so bleak that Jo Johnson, the former Universities Minister, wants to double the Post-Study Work Visa from two to four years to encourage the ‘best and brightest’ to invest their futures in Britain, or else the UK may see a ‘brain drain’ of talent taking their new skills overseas after graduating. The Prime Minister’s brother has even criticised the immigration rules in this respect, claiming UK universities remain bogged down by “bureaucracy” and “obsessions with poorly crafted immigration targets and pettifogging rules”.
The coronavirus crisis is only piling on the pressure, with fewer non-EU international students undertaking a degree in the UK too in this uncertain climate. Mass redundancies, severe financial strain and a reduction in staff pay appear written in the stars for the sector in the next few years.
Although it isn’t inherently ‘racist’ to have domestic immigration policies, racial bias has become the paradigm through which the UK’s points-based immigration system has been born. The past decade alone has exhibited the cruelty of these rules; from the ‘hostile environment’ deporting innocent, black Britons belonging to the Windrush generation overseas, to ‘Operation Vaken’ deploying ‘go home vans’ to drive around six London boroughs, and texting 40,000 people with the same message, in the hope that undocumented migrants would voluntarily leave the UK.
To add to the catalogue of errors, the Home Office has been forced to pay out over £20 million in the last three years in compensation as a result of unlawfully detaining migrants. And there is still more: the ‘right to rent’ scheme resulted in landlords refusing tenancies to applicants with ‘foreign sounding names’; banks, teachers and employers have been coerced into keeping records on the immigration statuses of their students and staff; and the NHS has been forced to fine and report their patients to immigration enforcement if they can’t produce evidence of their immigration status or a British passport. African visitors, including academics and researchers, face disproportionate difficulty in securing a Visit Visa due to UKVI’s overzealous and unfounded suspicion that those born to African countries won’t ever leave the UK at the end of their visit.
The Government’s very own visa algorithm that has been in full force for the past five years has only recently been suspended for exhibiting unconscious human biases, including racial discrimination against applicants of a certain nationality. Yet even recently, migrant UK-based researchers have been refused permanent settlement in the UK for conducting research overseas.
Clearly, there remains little confidence that the UK’s now stricter immigration rules will be any better. But the true cost will fall on the shoulders of the UK. Without diversity and the cross-collaboration of talented minds, and with a ‘hostile’ immigration system firmly in place, racism will sadly linger within generations to come and the landscape will be ever further from reflecting a welcoming, ethnically diverse and multicultural character.