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What Way Do University Students Perceive The Role Of Their Ethnicity Influencing


In the era of globalization and technological-oriented living, the concept of ethnicity has come under increased scrutiny focused on understanding let alone outline underlying factors building it. Essentially, social environment particularly in the urban areas has increasingly morphed into homogenous characterized by individuals from different ethnic groups, holding varying religious beliefs, ideological views, and norms, and coupled with coming from different cultural backgrounds. Similarly, workplace and learning centres have not been left behind as factors such as increased movement of people rooted on, arguably, globalisation and technological advancement. Notably, change in the ethnic spectrum in the cities, countries, learning institutions, and workplaces is not determinant of these globalisation only but factor to tourism, drought, better living standards, and conflicts leading to mass migration of people.


Scholars and researchers have not come up with a definitive and widely acknowledged description of the ethnicity. Considerably, some have argued ethnicity within the prism of individuals’ ethnic traits, classification, and association towards a given group of people. According to Jenkins (2008), ethnicity that form a core variable in ethnic diversity is informed by the deep-level cultural differences among individuals in a given group. In literature, the term ethnicity is commonly associated synonymously ethnic origin, ethnic identity, and ethnic group. The literature review, therefore, concentrates on the relevant studies that reflect on the genesis of ethnicity, ethnicity in the social settings and ethnicity in institutions. The findings from the relevant studies would form an avenue from which meanings and relationships can be extracted to befit the association of academic attainment and ethnicity among university students.


According to Walters (2012), ethnicity refers to the distinct cultural norms and values of a group: it gives an individual a sense of identification and provides a sense of belonging to a reference group. As identified by Song et al. (1999), characteristics of ethnic groups may include; shared cultural practices and beliefs, shared political and/or economic interests, shared racial features, common language, common religion, common history, and ancestry. Ford and Kelly (2005) argue that ethnicity takes a complex social construct as some scholars view it as a factor of ancestral background linked to social association while others hold that it is an element of physical attributes. According to Hoffmeyer-Zlotnik and Warner (2010), ethnicity categorises by identifying and affiliating individuals with who share similar phenomena and attributes. On the other hand, Krishnamurthy (2013) and Jenkins (2008) view ethnicity as being formed in the community and it distinctly identifiable in culture, norms, traditional beliefs, language, and, occasionally, religion. Another perspective of looking into ethnicity is through cultural and values held a group of people, which encompasses such factors as spirituality, dressing code, individual relations, shared beliefs, language, perspectives, and eating habits (Brubaker, 2009; Esteban et al., 2012). It worth noting that such attributes as skin colours (Blacks or White) are, in some social setting, regarded as variables of ethnicity. Broadly, individuals of dark skin colour commonly referred as Blacks are mostly categorised into ethnic group despite the fact that they mostly share little in terms of ideologies, beliefs, norms, or language aside of skin colour. Race and ethnicity are commonly misunderstood as being interchangeable terms.

Peoples and Bailey (2011) contended that ethnic group encompasses individuals within same social setting with experiences either social or ancestral. Individuals of the same ethnic group identify themselves as sharing historical background and cultural traditions that set them apart from other groups. They further identified that ethnic groups tend to exhibit a strong psychological and emotional attribute pitting ‘us’ against ‘them’ view of point. Unlike social stratification dividing or unifying individuals horizontally across such factors as socioeconomic elements, ethnic grouping separate or bring people vertically cutting across socioeconomic variables drawing people irrespective of their population strata. As pointed by Van de Vijver et al. (2015), the fundamental concept of ethnicity and race have their commonness founded on shared values, norms, beliefs, and features rooted on historical or social backgrounds.

Ethnic diversity

The concept of ethnic diversity has been subjected to a multi-dimensional perspective taking different interpretations and description. According to Cross et al. (1994), ethnic diversity can be understood by digging into its identifiable strands that include psychological, sociological, social responsibility, individualism, management, and anthropological frameworks linked to ethnicity and diversity. Van der Meer and Tolsma (2014) held that diversity in modern societies can be traced back to the conquest days where the ruling or dominant group brought peoples with different cultural and traditional values and norms for labour, technical and business skills held, and later industrialisation legitimizing the idea of migration to different regions for economic reasons. Moreover, political factors resulting in non-sustainable living, religious persecutions and educational dynamics are the reasons that have reshaped the fabrics of societies on a global scale. For instance, as indicated by Jensen et al. (2011) and Olzak (2011), societies in most part of the world have been forced to indulge individuals having different values, cultural and historical backgrounds, beliefs, norms, and physicality. This constitutes the basis of globalization, which is a current trend that is known giving provisions of psychological attitudes, behavioural patterns a well as school of thought while trying to shape the people’s identity and even the identity of nations. The most likely event that resides behind globalization and its influence on ethnic diversity as a trend includes the process of Americanization. It is evident that one would easily trace negative risks that come with globalization including the dimming of core values and the societal taste. The centre of focus on globalization includes the realization that it is a platform the defines ethnic diversity because of its capacity to accommodate different cultures, religions and ethnic groups.

Ethnicity in social setting

Al-Rawashdeh (2014) noted that there are challenges and problems such as persecution, discrimination, racism, inequality, crime, terrorism, and wars seen in the present societies are founded on ethnic differences and diversity. Studying the influence of diversity and social cohesion, Letki (2008) related the neighbourhood status to the social capital dimensions. According to Mishali-Ram (2006), ethnicity is a major cause factor in internal and internal disputes in the contemporary society. In contrary, studies have found significant correlation between ethnic diversity and performance in any social or working spectrum where they have demonstrated a diverse group of people to be more productive, efficient, and showing higher performance in a given tasks compared to homogenous group. Study conducted by Mazur (2010) on the relation between a diverse workforce and overall performance of a business entity highlighted that individuals from different background, holding different beliefs and values, would ultimately enhance creativity of a team in a social setup. Notably, Ethnic variables such as religion, economic background, gender and culture, which define ethnicity, would substantially aid learners to develop different perspectives of the social settings while appreciating underlying but dissimilar social attributes. Besides, ethnicity has been thought to be the appropriate ground where researcher can harness ideas that can solve problems encountered in the society. It equally offers the global perspective through exposure to the different cultures and social groups (Konan et al., 2010; Powell, and Powell, 2015; Packard, 2013). Notably, the understanding of ethnicity can be grounded on the social setup, which provides the genesis of differences between communities, ethnic groups or societies.

Based on the research by Modood (2013), the researchers noted that there was massive immigration of West Indians to the United Kingdom as from the year 1948 to 1970. Most of the students who settled in the United Kingdom faced discrimination prejudice both in school as well as the society, which significantly influenced their academic achievements (Modood, 2013). According to the findings by Richardson (2008), racial oppression seemingly could be witnessed in most of the learning institutions with racism being rampant thereby affecting the performance of ethnic minority students. Particularly, the evident underperformance of the black learners was squarely blamed on the pupils for being innately delinquent and troublesome rather than being academic issue (Richardson 2008). According to the study conducted by Crozier (2005), it is evident that African-Caribbean students were seen challenging the school teachers, a habit that made teachers put greater attention on the African-Caribbean behaviour instead of fostering academic achievement.

The trend on immigration sparked public debates on multiculturalism. In 1981, DES (1981) introduced The Rampton Report, which drew research on six local educational authorities, which prompted subsequent focus on the performance of West Indian pupils in comparison to pupils from different ethnicities (Modood, 2013). The report stated that “West Indian children as a group are failing in our education system” (DES, 1981). In addition, the report noted that racism formed one of the key factors that contributed to poor educational performance among black pupils. The report pointed out that some of the teachers could not handle multicultural classes as a result of inadequate teacher training (Race, 2015). Another key factor that contributed to poor educational performance among the black pupils revolved around negative racial stereotyping instigated by the school authority as well as the low expectations teachers have towards ethnic minority (Crozier, 2005). Based on this, it is evident that majority of the ethnic minority pupils suffered from institutional racism which equally had adverse impact on the educational performance.

Nevertheless, the Rampton Report’s emphasis on teacher’s racism sparked significant controversy across United Kingdom. This compelled Swann survey to be conducted in 1985 (Modood, 2013). The Swann report established that African-Caribbean students could only afford lower academic merits compared to the ones attained by the White counterparts in terms academic performance. In addition, the Swann Report research found similarity in performance of the Asian and White learners. The Swann Report was important due to the fact that it shifted the problem or the entire issue away from the immigrants, minority children as well as parents and placed the blame on the education system (Race, 2015). In addition, the Swann Report shifted the entire attention to inclusive multiculturalism as well as the paradigm of “Education for All” away from overt antiracist strategies (Modood, 2013). Education for All was established for the purposes of enabling all ethnic groups, irrespective of the cultural and ethnic backgrounds, to fully take part in shaping society. Moreover, Education for all was also established to give room for the ethnic minorities to maintain and observe their distinct identities as recognized through the societal framework of commonly accepted values (DES, 1981).

The Swann report indicates the significance of “inclusive multiculturalism” by noting the need for communities to be recognized in a positive way and not as a problem (Race, 2015). Nevertheless, the report rejected the idea of bilingual education despite linguistic diversity being acknowledged as a “positive asset”. Instead, the Swann Report argues, that notable minority languages should be restricted to the home and to the ethnic community (Modood, 2013). Although, the UK has a longstanding presence of Anglican, Catholic, and Jewish schools, the report rejected the notion of separate “ethnic minority” school, especially “Islamic” schools asserting that the prospect of Islamic school as socially divisive (ibid). However, the report distanced itself from religious instruction in schools, arguing, “the role of education cannot be, and cannot be expected to be, to reinforce the value, beliefs, and cultural identity, which each child brings to school” (DES, 1985, P. 321). Perhaps, this indicates that institutions cannot squarely be blamed for the negative side of ethnicity.

In 1999, the MacPherson Report was conducted following the death of Stephen Lawrence in South East London in 1993. The report highlighted that there was “an extraordinary lack of action and concern by the police authorities in investigating the murder of Stephen Lawrence and attributed this to ‘institutional racism’” within the police service (Gallagher, 2004: 100-01, cited in Race, 2015). Unlike the Swann report, it highlighted curriculum change as the key avenue that reflects and promotes cultural diversity (Race, 2015). Moreover, the MacPherson Report made recommendations aligned to prevention of ethnic tension by promotion of cultural diversity within learning institutions. This could be achieved through changes within the established national curriculum that not only accommodate cultural diversity but also aids prevention of racism. Besides, the MacPherson Report (1999) placed the responsibility on Local Education Authorities (LEA) as well as school governors to implement relevant anti-racist policies with the school environs (Race, 2015).

The Ajegbo Report of 2007 responded to the growing debate of national identity in Britain (Osler, 2008). Before the establishment of the Ajegbo Report, schools were compelled to bolster race equality as a result of the Race Relations Act 2000 (RRAA). Findings of the Ajegbo Report pointed out that the quality of education for diverse individuals was uneven across England (Race, 2015). Despite drawing ethnicity as the link between race, religion politics and the use of history in teaching citizenship, the report failed to address the educational disadvantages faced by the ethnic minority. Similarly, as pointed by Casey (2016), the Casey Review aimed at understanding divisions among communities as well as the cause of increase in anxiety, sense of grievance, prejudice and alienation noted in communities. DBE (2016) failed to match the social integration with rate of migration but blaming the victims of social injustices. According to DBE (2016), studies on the government and learning institutions acknowledge the existence of problems such as discrimination, persecution, and prejudice fuelled by ethnic differences. However, the link on the influence of such ethnically driven differences on students’ performance remains limited.

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In England, diversity in learning institutions has, over the years, been of major concern with several researches conducted to highlight the cause of disparity in academic performance between ethnic majority and minority. In addition to recommendation, the findings informed the basis of formulated policies on ways to bridge the gap. However, studies such as the ones noted by DBE (2016) have failed to address relationship between students’ academic attainment and respective ethnic identity. Studies have greatly demonstrated disadvantages faced by the ethnic minority ranging discrimination to inclusiveness. However, studies that focus on the influence diversity has, linked to culture, historical background, beliefs, and norms, on academic attainment of the respective students remain less explored.

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