Representation, engagement and participation: Latinx students in higher education
In partnership with King's College London
20th November 2019
Today CfEY has launched a new report with King’s College London, examining the representation, engagement and participation of Latinx students in higher education.
What is ‘Latinx’?
Latinx is a gender-neutral term for people of Latin American descent. Latinx includes Spanish or Portuguese first language speakers from the Central and South American geographical regions. While some people use the term, others prefer to identify as ‘Latin American’, ‘Latino/a’, ‘South/Central American’ or by their country of origin e.g. ‘Brazilian’ or ‘Colombian’.
Despite high levels of education and employment, the Latinx community in England is overrepresented in low-paid and low-skilled jobs, such as cleaning and hospitality. However, obtaining a degree from a UK university is a highly prized goal among many Latinx families and is sometimes their primary reason for moving to the UK.
What are the barriers to HE access and outcomes for Latinx students in the UK?
In her foreword to the report, Paulina Tamborrel, a Citizens UK community organiser from Mexico, said:
“They call us ‘the invisibles’, los invisibles. For all our colours, flavours and rhythms; Latin Americans would expect all before invisibility. We pride ourselves in our joy, musical spirits and loud voices. The grinding reality of being Latin American in the UK has made invisibility a new custom for our community, one that is hard to escape.”
CfEY delved deeper into this issue in our fieldwork for the research, using a literature review, interviews and focus groups to ask what kinds of challenges Latinx young people and their families face in engaging with UK education and what their aspiration were for the future.The slow pace of admissions and schools’ reluctance to admit pupils who speak English as an additional language can ‘lock’ Latinx young people out of the school system Click To Tweet
From this, we identified five main barriers affecting Latinx young people’s access to HE in the UK:
- Lack of knowledge of the UK education system: this can hinder Latinx pupils’ access to school places and limit parents’ ability to provide support with schoolwork and decision making
- Lack of awareness of how citizenship status can affect eligibility for funding: this can stand in the way of access to student loans or result in heightened student fees
- A need for pupils to act as ‘linguistic brokers’: when Latinx pupils have to facilitate interaction between parents and their school this can create conflicts of interest
- A high degree of reliance on community-based support networks: this can cause difficulties in areas where networks are weak, due to lower Latinx population density
- The school admissions system: the slow pace of admissions and schools’ reluctance to admit pupils who speak English as an additional language can ‘lock’ Latinx young people out of the school system
What action does the research recommend?
After discussing these barriers with students, teachers, community representatives and academics, we developed the following six recommendations for driving positive change:
- Support Latinx pupils to secure and declare their citizenship status: This work should begin early, and could involve signposting families to pro bono legal support, or supporting with the cost of the child citizenship fee such as through the Citizenship Payment Plan
- Address language barriers: For example by holding information and advice events in community venues, with Latinx students, or students on Spanish or Portuguese courses, acting as interpreters
- Go beyond access: Latinx students may require particular support with feeling as though they ‘fit in’ at university, and navigating their parents’ expectations of what they should do when they graduate. HEIs should involve students in this support, providing resources and logistical support for peer mentoring between existing students and new, or prospective students, both on- and off-campus
- Work with key community brokers to establish strong, long-term partnerships between HEIs and Latinx groups: This can happen directly, by working with local church groups and community groups, or through a community organising group or a Council for Voluntary Services
- Call on the ONS and UCAS to officially recognise Latinx students: Building on the work started by groups such as LatinXcluded
- Ensure Latinx people are visible in a variety of roles within HE: HEIs should support their Latinx academics to have a visible profile, and to play an active role in outreach work. This will help to demonstrate the many, key roles Latinx people play in the day-to-day life of higher education in the UK
How can we take this further?
Alongside these calls for action, we also identify five priority areas for future research:
- Ensure future research pays sufficient attention to Latinx young people who live or study outside London, in areas without a sizeable Latinx population
- Explore young people’s affinity with the ‘Latinx’ label or identity, potentially through peer research
- Explore how Latinx young people’s decision-making is affected by their parents’ aspirations and expectations, particularly in cases where families have moved to the UK specifically to access higher education
- Assess the state of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) provision in the UK, how this provision varies by region, how provision has changed over time, and how it could be improved
- Explore Latinx students’ experiences of FE, and the extent to which further education supports their access to HE