The Stormzy Effect

The so-called ‘Stormzy effect’ is up and running in its second year. The grime artist’s highly discussed scholarship programme with the University of Cambridge is giving rise to record numbers of black students enrolling as undergraduates in the prestigious institution’s history. 

According to Cambridge, 91 students have been admitted for the 2019-20 year, an almost 50 per cent rise from last year with a record breaking 200 black students total now studying at the University. 

Stormzy’s scholarship programme was launched last year, with the artist supporting two black students at the university. In August it was announced that the programme would continue. Due to the publicised nature of the scholarships, the ‘Stormzy effect’ commenced. As a consequence more black students are applying and being admitted.

Such change is vital to the progress of higher education and should be celebrated, however it is important to understand the root of the problems that persist in our system.

Oxford and Cambridge have particularly been highly criticised for the lack of outreach in encouraging application from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) students.  A Freedom of Information (FoI) request from the Financial Times revealed that between 2012 and 2016 – six of Cambridge’s colleges admitted under 10 British black students.

To understand the issue of the lack of diversity at our top institutions – we must try and understand how race still is integrated in the structures that make up modern Britain. 

A 2018 UN report panel investigated structural racism in Britain – focusing particularly on the criminal justice system. The UN gathered data from the Metropolitan police and found that people of African or Caribbean descent were disproportionately targeted and suffered injury of death due to force of the state. 

It is no coincidence that this exact group is severely underrepresented in higher education. The number of BAME students can be shown to be increasing year after year, something that universities celebrate and publicise. However, the number of students from African or Caribbean students admitted to Oxbridge decreased from 2017 to 2018 according to the Telegraph.

This endemic racism is not only present among students at top universities. 

Katy Sian recently researched institutional racism in UK universities, focusing on BAME academics. Black academics make up less than 1 per cent of professors at all UK universities. Sian’s research, where she spoke to BAME academics, showed that many felt they had to “overachieve” compared to their white counterparts in order to climb the academic ladder.

This illustrates the culture that is systemic across the education system: one that can easily exclude. A university campus that we like to think of as an inclusive place has the danger of being isolating, deterring students who may feel ‘other’ from being encouraged to apply.

If a university is aiming to be somewhat of a microcosm of the world, then a proportionate representation of the country is key in achieving this. Our everyday discussions from students and staff in lectures, tutorials and seminars are made simply more interesting and richer when there are people in the room from a wide range of backgrounds. 

The root of this underrepresentation of students has been ascribed to the lack of outreach from the universities themselves. Sir Michael Barber, Chair of the Office of Students, reported that UK universities are “passively waiting” for the underrepresented to decide to apply. He claims universities should actively outreach communities such as in churches, mosques, and youth centres. 

This passive outreach leading to lacking progress explains the nature of the ‘Stormzy effect’. The popular artist talking about this prestigious university has the ability to change the conception of such institutions in students’ minds. It makes it a possibility: something truly attainable rather than a foreign other that isn’t meant for them. 

However, Stormzy’s scholarship and the consequent effect cannot be thought of as a finish line for this pressing issue. Instead, it should be seen as an example of active change being created that should be replicated and continued.

Image: via capitalxtra.com

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The Student Newspaper 2016