Concrete Actions Needed for Diversity, Equality & Inclusivity in Earth Sciences

Concrete Actions Needed for Diversity, Equality & Inclusivity in Earth Sciences

Last week, our Department of Earth Sciences at Oxford issued a statement on anti-racism and our commitment to diversity, equality & inclusivity.  We thought we should outline some of the steps we have been taking over the past few years in terms of concrete actions for attracting and admitting Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) students.

BAME individuals are underrepresented in the Earth Sciences in general (Bernard and Cooperdock 2018).  Our Department is no exception.  We are a small department with an intake of c. 35 students every year that is prone to fluctuations in the proportion of students that derive from different backgrounds.  Nevertheless, our undergraduate entries from BAME backgrounds have historically been low, around only 3.6% between 2015 and 2017.

Recognising this inequity, we have implemented major changes to our outreach strategy over the last two years to increase BAME applications to our Department, encourage broader inclusivity, and redress this underrepresentation.  Over this time, we have doubled our number of outreach events and tripled our number of public engagement events, more explicitly targeting under-represented minority and socioeconomic groups.  In 2018/19, we welcomed 28 inbound schools from areas with a higher proportion of BAME students, including East Ham, Hackney, and Bedfordshire.  These visits have also included schools from underrepresented geographic regions, such as Cumbria and West Yorkshire.  Our broadening participation initiative is facilitated through hands-on workshops, a growing number of digital resources, and the development of support material for teachers.  This has been spearheaded by our outreach officer, supported by faculty members, researchers, and postgraduates and undergraduate students.

We are already beginning to see some results from these efforts.  The number of BAME undergraduate applications has risen significantly over the last three years, and this is being translated into students on our undergraduate course: from the shockingly low numbers of BAME students in the 2015-17 intake, some 21.4% of students who started the undergraduate course in 2019 are from BAME backgrounds.  This reflects the national average amongst students achieving 3As at A-level (21.5%).

Although we are heartened by some early signs of success in our efforts to increase diversity, this is but one year’s intake, and we know that there is still much more we can – and should – do.  The underrepresentation of BAME students continues through to postgraduate level, and in this regard, the Department of Earth Sciences has committed to the UNIQ+ scheme from 2020 onwards.  This scheme is a University graduate access research internship programme that builds on the success of our undergraduate UNIQ residential courses for school students.  The program is intended to encourage access to postgraduate study from talented undergraduates who would find continuing to postgraduate study a challenge for reasons other than their academic ability.

More generally, while attracting and admitting more BAME candidates to our department and the field of Earth Sciences represents an important goal, there are still other steps that we need to take.  Once admitted to the Department, it is vital BAME students feel they belong.  We seek to remove any barriers to their success on course, so everyone can flourish and achieve their potential.  Some of these steps are simple: for example, ensuring social events have non-alcoholic drinks available and people from different religious or cultural backgrounds can feel comfortable, to ensuring a greater diversity of speakers in our seminar series.  Other steps will take a little longer, and yet others may be harder to identify or address.  To that end, we are actively working with our student body to recognise and remove any barriers we can identify, and to seek ways in which we can be a more inclusive and diverse community.  In this regard we are grateful to our postgraduate students, particularly Ben Fernando and Gawain Antell, who have produced a report on improving diversity and inclusion within our department.

The Department is determined to address the inequities faced by racial, sexual, and gendered minorities, and by those of lower socioeconomic status.  The disadvantages and racism faced by minority members of our community are real and challenging, and we are committed to eliminating these inequities.


Chris Ballentine, Head of Department

Conall MacNiocaill, Director of Teaching

Erin Saupe, Chair of Workplace and Equality Committee

Roger Benson, Admissions Coordinator