The first black woman ever elected to parliament, Diane Abbott, joined LJMU’s celebration of Black History Month.
MP Abbott came to mark Black History Month and to discuss the question: ‘Using the past as a platform for the future: Do British universities cater for black and other minority communities?’
She told JMU Journalism: “I hope it will mark Black History Month.
“I think Black History Month is very important to remind us we live in a diverse society and that we should honour it, and I hope it will make people think a little bit.”
The lecture was on the university system as a whole. She made some points about the Russell Group universities – which includes Oxford and Cambridge – but the lecture took higher education as a whole and put it into an historical context to see where progress could be made.
Ms Abbot told JMU Journalism: “I think it’s a question of building a university system which allows all young people whatever their colour, class or their background, to actually move through the higher education system and achieve their full potential. That’s what individuals want and need.”
Ms Abbott, who represents Hackney North and Stoke Newington, is an advocate of raising the standards of education among black communities. She was behind the initiative London Schools and the Black Child initiative aimed at dealing with the problem of educational underachievement in Black communities.
She also stood for Labour party leader after Gordon Brown stepped down, and currently holds the position Shadow Public Health Minister.
A report titled ‘Race into Higher Education’ – based on analysis of figures from both the Office of National Statistics’ Labour Force Survey and the Higher Education Statistics Agency – suggests that the intake of Black British Caribbean males has increased only fractionally since 1995. This could be because of the introduction of, and rise in, tuition fees.
Ms Abbott told JMU Journalism: “I have always been opposed to tuition fees. I voted against them under the Labour government, I’m opposed to them in principal, and obviously I voted against pushing them up under this coalition government.
“I think if you’re in a family where no one has been to university before, getting into debt to go to university is quite off-putting.”
The report ‘Race into Higher Education’ also it states that 56.3% of students with a BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) background were able to gain employment after graduating, compared to 66% of white students.
Ms Abbott added: “They used to say the reason black people couldn’t get jobs or couldn’t get the right job was because they didn’t have the qualifications.
“What you see now is a generation with the qualifications but are still not getting jobs. There’s no question there’s an element of discrimination.”
Days that celebrate Black History Month such as the event at LJMU are a step in the right direction.
She said: “I think Black History Month plays a really important role, not just to black students but for entire communities.
“What black history reminds us of is the contribution black people have made to society in a whole range of different areas, so it is a good thing that they’re having this event.”