Changing Society: The Multicultural University

12/12/2012 12:57 | Updated 10 February 2013

As a student from an ethnic minority background, I have often found myself interested in the situation of race, ethnicity and youth culture among British students at University.

I feel time after time the need to critically assess the viewpoint of how diversity may fashion a student's experiences during the University years; where in my current situation, half of my degree discipline holds a high percentage of white British students over other backgrounds, and whether this is even noticeable for those who aren't from an ethnic minority background.

Earlier this year, London Metropolitan University were spotlighted after the UK Border Agency (UKBA) suspended its highly trusted sponsor status in July, leaving over 3,000 students uncertain whether they can complete courses and potential ones uncertain if they can take up offers.

Questions were brought up about the value that international students place on the role of multiculturalism in British Universities, and an important aspect in internationalising higher education is to encourage home students to see beyond a parochial worldview, to become aware of alternative ways of thinking and to challenge stereotypes.

Statistics from the University of Manchester's Equality and Diversity Unit shows that the percentage of Non-UK undergraduate students at the University has increased each year since 2006; where 10% of students were international, to more recently 19% for the academic year of 2011. Similarly, Non-UK postgraduate statistics were also on the rise, with even higher results of 36% from 2006 to 46% in 2011. All this in comparison to the rather static result of 67% in 2006 of students who self identified as white students, with the percentage slipping slightly to 63% but still dominating.

Yet even with the surge of international and ethnic minority students, should Universities rethink the organisation and representation of minority groups in British Universities? Are they unfairly represented? Does the lack of diversity effect certain student's time at University?

Infamously, David Cameron stated during his 2011 EU summit speech that "state multiculturalism has failed" . Of course, he was referring to the larger scale of multiculturalism. But does this lie within British Universities also? He claimed that it had failed to the point where national identity lacked in Britain.

Many Universities hold departments and centres dedicated to ethnic diversity services, existing as a sideline service rather than something that should be considered a norm, to unify students and staff of all differing backgrounds. Speaking to the Equality and Diversity service at the University of Manchester, they felt that it was important that the University included this, saying "as an Equality and Diversity Unit we provide support and advice to staff and students from different groups including ethnic minorities".

Professor Aneez Esmail, the Associate Vice President for Social Responsibility at the University wrote "it is important we recognise and respect the values and beliefs of every individual at the University. By embracing diversity we can learn a lot about ourselves and others and work and study in an inclusive environment."

Yet with this in mind, one has to wonder whether other students at University realise this service exists. As a British but ethnic minority student, the information was not served as part of the introduction to University life. If I had not sought it, I would be oblivious as would many others.

Personally, I feel meeting people with different values and beliefs asserts that multiculturalism is inherently positive and life-enriching, as it allows different nationalities to integrate, to learn about each other, and to enjoy the cultures of other countries. Not only does multiculturalism enable people to see the world beyond their shores, but it also heightens cultural awareness. And even more so allow you to meet individuals you probably wouldn't have met at all if you hadn't gone to university.

It is essential that our universities offer a supportive environment: for the sake of home students as much as those from abroad.