This article is more than 1 year old

Mapping inequalities and EDI work in music higher education

Music higher education courses are a crucial pathway into industry - but how representative are they? Anna Bull, Amy Blier-Carruthers, and Diljeet Bhachu have the findings
This article is more than 1 year old

Anna Bull is a Senior Lecturer in Education and Social Justice at the University of York and a founding member of The 1752 Group

Amy Blier-Carruthers is a Lecturer in Music Performance at King’s College London and a Research Fellow at the Royal Academy of Music.

Diljeet Bhachu is an independent early career researcher based in Scotland.

Inspired by the Royal Historical Society’s report into ‘race’ within the discipline of history, and in order to build on the earlier discussions opened up by the Gender and Equality in Music Higher Education report from 2015, this week saw the launch of the report Slow Train Coming? Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in UK Music Higher Education from the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Music Studies (EDIMS) network.

The network was set up in 2019 in order to promote, support and share good practice in relation to EDI in music higher education in the UK.

The report aims to provide data on the demographic patterns of staff and students in UK music HE. We can now use this data to frame arguments for progressive change; to document ongoing work around, and the challenges in carrying out, EDI initiatives in music HE; and to illuminate some of the experiences of marginalised staff and students in UK music HE.

Key findings

One of the most important findings from our data analysis is the variation in representation of different racialised groups at different stages of music HE. While numbers of Black British music students drop off across the pipeline between undergraduate, postgraduate, and PhD/academic staff level, by contrast the numbers of British Asian/British East Asian music students remain stable at a low proportion across the pipeline – around 2 per cent of music students – and are substantially lower than the proportion of Asian students in UK HE more generally (around 11 per cent).

To our knowledge, the low representation of Asian students in music HE has not been explicitly discussed to date. This finding requires further exploration. Not only do we need to understand why this is occurring, but also how this is impacting on those British Asian students and staff who are present in music higher education, as well as the knock-on effects on inequalities in the music industry.

All policy is data definition

It was not straightforward to designate what or who counts as “music higher education”. Sp we purchased and carried out descriptive analysis on Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data on staff and students in music HE from 2016 to 2020, and drew the boundaries around music as a discipline by asking HESA for data on all students for whom music was 50 per cent or more of their programme, including programmes such as audio technology and music recording that sometimes take place outside of music departments.

For staff, we included all those included in a “cost centre” where music was their first, second or third listed subject. However, HESA holds limited demographic data in some areas, particularly for international students, and were unable to provide data on sexuality and gender identity for either students and staff. Nor does HESA hold data on class or disability for staff, so our analysis has significant limitations.

Gender in music

The report documents significant gender inequalities, building on previous work from Vick Bain. Male music students remain over-represented at undergraduate level, almost exactly inverting the gender breakdown of the student population as a whole. Among academic staff, the starkest differences could be seen at higher levels of seniority, where there were more than four times as many male than female professors in UK music HE.

Examining the pipeline from undergraduate to postgraduate study and then on to academic staff, women students were more likely than men to progress on to postgraduate, non-doctoral degrees at most types of institutions but then less likely to continue on to PhD-level study and to become academic staff.

There is therefore a puzzle to be solved concerning the relatively higher numbers of women doing postgraduate (non-doctorate) music degrees compared to lower numbers of women among undergraduate and PhD students. This pattern does vary substantially, however, across different types of institutions. It is important to note that this trend is not specific to music but has been observed across Europe in a variety of disciplines. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that the pipeline between master’s and doctoral level for women music students would be a helpful area to target interventions.

Music classes

In relation to class inequalities, the overall finding is that the class composition of students is overall more privileged than the wider student population, and is unequally distributed across different types of institutions. We looked at two variables: parents’ occupation, and type of school (fee-paying or state-funded).

Of all UK-domiciled music students, 8 per cent had attended fee-paying schools, a similar level to the proportion of privately educated pupils across the UK (7 per cent). However, within this figure there were stark differences across type of institution, with older universities and conservatoires having the highest proportion of privately educated students.

In comparison, only 3-4 per cent of post-1992 universities’ student intake came from fee-paying schools. More generally, compared to the general UK student population, music students appeared less likely to have parents in intermediate or routine and manual occupations (but there were high levels of missing data here so this finding is tentative).

It’s always important to examine what hasn’t changed over the four years examined here as well as what has. The only substantial change between 2016 and 2020 is the increasing number of students recorded as disabled. Other patterns have remained relatively constant. This illustrates the structural nature of the inequalities that are outlined and helps us to view these on a wider level rather than looking at individual institutions or issues. Furthermore, it is crucial to remember that while some of these patterns are specific to music, many of them characterise the entire HE sector.

What people say

But the numbers only tell part of the story. The EDIMS network has tapped into a wealth of energy, expertise and commitment to making change in music HE, and from its working groups we have learnt about some of the exciting and sometimes unknown EDI work that is going on across the sector. Therefore we aimed to document ongoing work around, and challenges within, EDI initiatives in music HE through carrying out a survey of EDI leads and/or heads of department music departments and HE institutions across the country on EDI work being carried out.

The survey data shows a substantial amount of activity taking place to address certain types of inequalities – most notably gender and “race”/decolonising – but also demonstrates that much of this work has been taking place only relatively recently. While a quarter of UK music HEIs/departments responded to our survey, it is likely that these were the ones that are most active in this work so we should not assume that these findings are representative of work nationally.

Nevertheless, it is exciting and encouraging to see action underway in many departments and institutions, as highlighted by some of the case-study examples presented throughout the report. There appear to be sophisticated discussions occurring within institutions but there is scope for more joined-up work. For example, we have noted the scope for more use of contextual admissions by music departments, as well as more development and/or sharing of good practice around what this looks like for performance-related degrees.

Finally, we included in the report written submissions about lived experience from staff and students in UK music HE who saw themselves as minoritised or marginalised in some way, in order to make visible some of the ways in which the inequalities it describes are experienced by students and staff. We hope that these accounts help to bring to life some of the structural inequalities that are described and remind us of the importance of working towards more equality and inclusion in music HE. We also interspersed throughout the report some good practice examples from music HE departments and institutions to showcase exciting EDI work that is currently taking place and to inspire readers.

The current moment is a difficult one for many music departments due to threats of closure and declining numbers of pupils taking GCSE and A-level music. Against such a challenging backdrop, we hope that this report provides inspiration and motivation to continue the good practice that is starting to occur to tackle these inequalities.

3 responses to “Mapping inequalities and EDI work in music higher education

  1. I’m curious as to whether this report includes data from the independent providers who joined the HEI register in 2019? Music is the second highest subject area in this group of providers.

    1. The report does include a grouping of ‘Specialist performing arts/music institute’ providers – but as they are using HESA data there’s a chance that some more recent entries to the sector aren’t fully represented in that data yet.

Leave a Reply