21 January 2022

Black academics are underrepresented at professorial and leadership levels in UK Universities.
Black academic helping a student

Co-hosted by the Scaling Business in Africa (SBIA) Consortium and Knowledge Bridge, a two-day webinar organised by the Society of Black Academics (SBA) provided some critical perspectives, direction, and ideas towards developing a successful career as a black academic in the UK.

With 22 guest speakers (all senior academics in their respective universities in the UK), beneficial insights were shared on eight key themes:

  • Being an academic
  • Positioning and identity
  • Publishing
  • Teaching
  • Research grants
  • Engagement and consulting
  • Career progression and mobility
  • Navigating racism

We found that to succeed in the UK’s higher education (HE) sector, black academics must incorporate these key themes in their career development plan (CPD). The event was well attended with over 133 participants on day one and 125 participants on day two. Attendees benefited from the wealth of experience of other black academics, and the opportunity to re-examine their career plans for future success.

Career progression is a major issue for black academics where in the UK, there are more than 23,000 university professors, but fewer than 1% of them are black. Although there has been an increase in the recruitment of academics in UK universities due to increasing student numbers, the recruitment of black academics remains negligible.

This is surprising considering that many black academics continue to PhD level while undertaking relevant activities prepare for academic careers. Typically, when black academics are employed by UK universities, they struggle to progress due to many factors such as, but not limited to institutional barriers, lack of recognition, racism, poor support of black talent, unstructured growth plans, and so on.

Therefore, many black academics move institutions and change jobs several times. To move forward as black academics, eight key dimensions were identified as critical to developing a successful academic career. Speakers emphasised that black academics should pay attention to these areas and how to become more competitive candidates.

Being an academic

To succeed as an academic, individuals must make several choices and ask critical questions to recognise what type of academic they aim to be and identify their intended contribution. Setting intentions such as becoming a research, teaching, or professional development-focused academic are important choices ideally made at an early stage.

To progress quickly towards the professorial cadre, black academics should get involved in conducting research on impactful topics. Although some universities are more research-intensive than others, individuals should consider switching institutions to find the right platform for growth. Individuals should define their intended contribution and motivations, thereby enabling them to position themselves more strongly to share insights and solution-based approaches about critical issues.

Black academics also face high pressure in their careers due to the need to get more certifications, degrees, publications, external engagement, and so on. To keep their jobs and sustain their relevance. Black academics need to define their contribution, change institutions to advance, build their CVs, network, attend good conferences, articulate a clear research trajectory, and get the Higher Education Academy (HEA) qualifications.

To succeed, black academics need to develop their teaching proficiency and convey research-led teaching. Success is relative and can be found in many organisations and careers.

Positioning and identity: who am I?

Positioning and identity are important concepts for black scholars to inform their research and career trajectories. To be well positioned as a black academic, you need to be known for something — theoretical lens, literature contribution, methodological lens, or all these dimensions.

Identity can also be flexible. From a research perspective, it is important for black academics to focus on the quality of their research, and they should not limit their creativity. Black academics also need to be confident that what they are researching, and teaching is of value. In all, having an African or black identity should be an advantage. Besides research, identity can also be considered from a leadership perspective where an individual takes on responsibilities and gets involved in subjects that make a difference to society or a community.

Sustaining your identity as a black academic also requires a certain level of creativity, especially in a niche area. However, being in an environment that encourages activities that are aligned with your identity such as the research pathway, for example:

  • Building expertise in research grant applications
  • Writing solid proposals that will engage beyond the research council level to industry needs
  • Developing innovative teaching capabilities and expertise that can be transferred to industrial workshops and training
  • Developing pedagogy research publications asides the normal publication outputs
  • And so on

The speakers emphasised that finding your identity as an academic can also start from an individual’s passion and strengths. Academics were advised of the importance of finding your own space but also understanding who your audience is. There is no one way to develop a good identity and positioning as a black academic. Black academics must also see themselves as a brand based on their intellectual contribution to their subject area.

It is important to consider identity within the workplace setting, where black academics do not only see themselves as a staff of one specific institution but see themselves as an academic that works on a specific subject area, but their home is the current affiliation. This perspective enables the ability for mobility and the prospects to take their identity as black academics somewhere else, or another home.

So, identity should not be limited or shaped by an institution. Black academics must take ownership of their own theme of research within their space, and they need to work more to explore using methods that have not been used. Likewise, black academics should not be shy and need to start identifying themselves as blacks in the workplace and during review exercises, as it seems individuals are scared about revealing their own identity. Although it is important to recognise the presence of racism and discrimination in the UK’s Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), black academics in the UK are encouraged to accept their own identify.

Towards developing a strong identity, black academics need to overcome the lingering imposter syndrome that prevents them from studying their own culture and heritage.


Publishing is a challenging endeavour, especially due to the rising number of paper submission to journals, limited top-tier journals in respective fields, growing numbers of PhD applicants and graduates, the pressure to publish, and so on. Yet, it is a fundamental aspect of our academic careers and can augment or weaken career prospects, particularly in highly ranked research-intensive universities.

Not all academics view publishing as an important aspect of their career trajectory, particularly when they consider the features of "being an academic" discussed in section 2, but it remains a critical dimension. Publishing is a medium to share an academic’s contributions and facilitates connection of ideas.

Black academics should strategically find niche areas to make a positive impact rather than writing for the sake of publication targets and collaborating with colleagues in similar fields. Awareness of the type of journals preferred by universities is also key. Networking is a critical skill and opportunity to establish a community of practice and shared experience to publish in reputable academic journals and overcome the desire to work alone.

Sharing ideas with like-minded scholars can present opportunities for co-authoring. It is of benefit to work on topical issues which may give researchers an edge in the publication process as many stakeholders (for example, editors, reviewers, academic society, and practitioners) often seek out the latest insights.


Insights about strategies for becoming an excellent teacher, the dynamics between teaching and research, and how to innovate through teaching. Black academics need to understand the core values and strategies of their respective institutions. There are universities that place research at the core of their activities, but what happens in the classroom matters, especially on MBA, EMBA, and Executive Education programmes.

There can be tension between teaching and research. Many universities currently focus on or are trying to focus on companies and industrial engagement, for example, the surge in demand for impact case studies and funded projects. Academics are required to actively talk to companies and use their expertise to improve the performance of such firms.

However, there are universities that focus strongly on research, demanding research outputs in top journals. Many universities are looking to a balanced portfolio because of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), and the need to achieve gold status with this assessment.

There are different career models and academics (especially black academics) can have more emphasis on one aspect over the other, for example, research-intensive individual and teaching also above average — but you need to be hitting the top publications to have this model. If you are good in the classroom and your research publications are not so strong, heads of departments (HODs) will consider other aspects such as student experience, module feedback.

As black academics, it is crucial to understand how to be an excellent teacher and strive toward continuous improvement. For example, black academics face issues such as complaints about their accents, designing of modules that have value (practical and real-life approaches toward content, assessments, and so on). Black academics should be purposeful when identifying the course, they want to teach, the team, and so on.

They should understand how to negotiate their teaching load with HODs as it often feels like they accept every teaching load without asking questions. However, a good negotiation can only happen when the academic is research active, with publications in high-impact journals (minimum three-star on the Academic Journal Guide). Black academics need to get teaching qualifications, especially toward getting a promotion. Such qualifications include attaining HEA membership (Fellow, Senior Fellow, Principal Fellow), Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PGCAP), Postgraduate Certificate (PgCert), and so on. Black academics also need to portray the right attitude to engage students in the classroom, exhibited in CVs and personal statements.

Finally, it is important for black academics to align their research activities and interests with their teaching to reduce the workload required to develop two different streams. Progress is possible from a teaching institution, but adequate planning and the appropriate strategy are required, for example, requesting for block teaching, communicating with the HOD, and so on.

Research grants

Obtaining research grants is a significant aspect of building a successful academic career. However, the process is often competitive and difficult to navigate, hence many academics struggle to secure grants. In the UK, many universities encourage academics to attract and source for research income as part of their workload, which brings about pressure especially for early career researchers (ECRs) who have minimal experience about how it works. However, it is important for black academics to understand how to successfully secure research funding and identify the steps.

Research grants allow academics to do work and research that have a real impact. Research grants contribute to the 5Ps of a researcher in the UK which are:

  • PhD
  • Publications
  • Public Profile
  • Pounds
  • Prestige

It was also referred to as "the oil that greases the gears". Considering the high number of research publication outputs, obtaining research grants can have an extra added value for an academic’s overall profile and build an impact case study assessment through the funded project. So, black academics are encouraged to develop their research grant proficiency.

It is important to select the right topic and be clear about the type of issues to solve through research grant proposals. Black academics also need to link their identity with their research interests to improve their ability to compete for research funding bids. Likewise, it is important to build badges of honour and get recognised for the unique skills and capabilities needed to complement research teams applying for grants.

However, some issues were raised about historical gender issues related to research grants, the low number of female mentors available to support women, and the lack of apprenticeship for black female academics. Overall, black academics are encouraged to consider getting involved in research grant applications. They should be strategic about who they are, target market, capacity, and limitations.

Engagement and consulting

It is increasingly important for academics to engage and participate with external stakeholders to solve problems and develop innovative approaches. Many universities in the UK also require their academics to participate in consultancy activities. 20 years ago, consultancy and engagement were seen as less compatible with research and teaching, compared to the current situation today. Consulting can create impact case studies.

Besides from research grants, engagement and consulting activities are an additional way of generating income for individual academics and broadening external interaction. It is also seen as a pathway for professional knowledge exchange between academics and industry practitioners. Black academics are encouraged to consider engagement at multiple levels such as their local community, local businesses, policymakers, national and international level, and so on. Engaging with these different stakeholder groups also involves communication to challenge people’s preconceived ideas. This ability to engage is also important towards obtaining research grants and increasing an academic’s visibility.

Engaging in consultancy work is also important for building relevant teaching materials that will improve engagement and student satisfaction. Such activities can create an opportunity to leverage knowledge exchange ideas from the consultancy activities into the teaching curriculum, for example, assessments, case studies, speakers, and live projects with companies. Academics can also use such activities for individual financial gain. So, consultancy activities can attract funding, which could be useful toward getting a promotion. Personal relationships can be built from consultancy activities which can be useful for the enhancement of an individual’s academic career.

However, black academics need to be aware of issues relating to consulting and engagement such as conflict of interest, lack of capacity and skillsets, and so on.

Career progress and mobility

One of the main issues that face black academics in the UK relates to career progression. Many black academics find it difficult to progress from lecturer level to professorial level because of lack of knowledge about the critical steps needed to progress in academia, institutional barriers, lack of preparedness from the black academics themselves, increased level of competition in academia, poor strategy and plan, poor decision-making, and so on.

To progress to the professorial level, black academics need to focus on three key building blocks:

  1. Research
  2. Teaching
  3. Administration

Conducting high-quality research to be disseminated in top-tier journals. Black academics must exhibit research proficiency by ensuring that their research papers get published in a 3-star rated journal minimum (for academics that use the Academic Journal Guide (AJG)). In this line, it is also important to have a long-term plan for publications to ensure consistency for a long period of time. This consistency should also be exhibited through collaborations with like-minded academics as suggested earlier.

Black academics must show solid research outputs to their promotion panel. It is important to show the ability to lead research projects by taking the first authorship in some research papers. The panellists agreed that it is important to do enough research to improve an individual’s research profile. For example, ensuring that one paper is always under review in a reputable journal.

To progress as an academic, it is also important to exhibit a strong teaching proficiency by keeping a record of end-of-the-year student evaluation reports, mid-module evaluation appraisals, and other records of student satisfaction. Teaching competency can be demonstrated through innovative techniques such as the use of technology.

Finally, black academics are encouraged to take on leadership responsibilities within their subject groups and departments. It is important to be prepared and to learn to work with others. To do this, individuals may take on admin duties such as student engagement coordinator, student recruitment officer, ethics lead, school relationship officer, academic misconduct chair, and so on.

Black academics are advised to plan their career paths considering challenges associated with the job. There are also different types of universities in the UK (Ancient universities, Russell Group, Redbrick or civic universities, Plate Glass or 1960s universities, post–1992, and so on). Having a strong CV can help break through the bottlenecks at these institutions and to move between them.

Racism is embedded in the system and many UK universities are trying to tackle it through Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups, having dedicated posts for equality, diversity, and inclusion at senior level. So, black academics should not be afraid to take on challenges and learn strategies on how to overcome colour by ensuring that people see their talent and skills.

When considering inherent racism in academia, it is of benefit to examine historical legacies and current manifestation. Racism is evident in different areas such as recruitment, for example, how accents are perceived, or feeling the need to do more than others to stay employed. Unsurprisingly, many black academics feel the need to acquire more academic qualifications to prove their competence at entry level for jobs, and to sustain positions. In line with the purpose of the first conference organised by the Society of Black Academics (SBA), this section highlights how this issue can be addressed.

Firstly, it is important to address racism at the institutional level. This entails driving anti-racism activities from departmental, faculty, and university level. We recognise that many universities are beginning to invest in this initiative by introducing BAME focus groups, regular dialogues on diversity and inclusion, setting up dedicated posts to promote the participation of minority academics.

However, universities still have a greater role to play in addressing this issue. Investing more time and effort into tackling racism from different stages would be one way, for example, from the recruitment stage to the in-post confirmation stage. Universities should pay attention to concerns raised by black academics. This may include asking for feedback, statements, and interviews, to address issues. There should also be consequences to send a strong message about the commitment from an institutional level, which may contribute to curbing racism in UK Academia.

Secondly, it is important to address racism at the individual level. Black academics can help by setting up or participating in existing focus groups to serve as a voice. Such initiatives can promote a collegial anti-racist atmosphere where individuals start learning and understanding the disadvantages of racism in the workplace through social education.

This may also create an avenue for non-blacks to act as allies. Individuals also need to start standing up against racism in the workplace by addressing it when it occurs and alerting them to the institutional level reporting system. Therefore, individuals need to develop a strong support system with people with shared experiences to keep the conversation on race issues and how to solve them in different institutions.

Though racism is embedded in university organisational structures, individual black academics may have also allowed institutions to continue with certain racist mentalities which need to be addressed. Black academics are often in an environment where they do not know the political systems in the institutions, and how to navigate the structure and system to raise an issue. Therefore, black academics are encouraged to learn and understand the policies and rules to be able to build a stronger case when confronting racism.

Overall, black academics should continue speaking up and leverage alliances to raise alarms that will feedback to the institutional level. It may be useful to engage with people from different cultures to understand their experiences and determine whether they share the same experiences considering that black academics often feel that their competencies and abilities are being questioned.


The webinar was organised because black academics and women are underrepresented at professorial and leadership levels in UK universities. So, we hope black academics will critically consider the perspectives deliberated in the conference on developing a successful career in the UK’s academia. The level of competition in the UK academia has increased because of rising numbers of doctoral graduates, budget cuts, and limited full-time lectureship vacancies.

This report is, therefore, intended to provide direction and draw attention to important themes significant for career development in the UK’s university system. Black academics can use the insights provided in this report to rethink their career plans, ad plan more effectively for success as they navigate their academic career journey.

This report also contributes to the ongoing debate on equality, diversity, and inclusion in higher education. Specifically, it shares insights that higher education institutions may find useful for creating an inclusive environment, recruitment and retention, staff development, the introduction of supportive policies and procedures.

Other relevant stakeholders such as the Department for Education and external bodies, for example, funding bodies, may also benefit from the insights shared in this report. Funding bodies may consider diversity in grant applications. Finally, scholars with research interests on this topic could benefit from this report and perhaps use it to develop the significance of their research.

We wish black academics the best of luck with their future career plans and hope they will find an identity and position themselves as academics, publish their research in top-tier academic journals, succeed in teaching, secure funding and grants, engage in consultancy activities, climb the ladder to professorial level, and navigate racism appropriately.

Note on contributors

Dr Ade Oyedijo, University of Leicester School of Business

Dr Ade Oyedijo is a Lecturer in Operations and Supply Chain Management at The University of Leicester, and a Visiting Lecturer in Project and Supply Chain Management at the Professional Academy of University College Dublin (UCD). Ade obtained his PhD and MSc in Operations, Logistics, and Supply Chain Management from Newcastle University (UK), and BA (Hons) in Business and Management Studies from The University of Hertfordshire (UK). Ade is a Chartered Procurement and Supply Professional (Chartered MCIPS), a Chartered Member with the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CMILT), and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA).

Professor Kenneth Amaeshi, University of Edinburgh Business School

Professor Kenneth Amaeshi is a Professor of Sustainable Business at The University of Edinburgh Business School, and a Professor of Sustainable Finance and Governance at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, Italy. He studied at the University of Nottingham, Business School, UK (MBA in corporate social responsibility); Oxford University, Said Business School, UK (visiting PhD scholar), and the University of Warwick, Business School, UK (PhD in international business and political economy). Kenneth is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, UK, an external examiner at Oxford University, and an extraordinary Professor of business in Africa at the Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Further reading


The insights in this report were derived from perspectives shared by speakers who attended the Society of Black Academics (SBA)’s conference on the 2nd and 3rd of June 2021 (hosted by the Scaling Business in Africa (SBIA) consortium at the University of Edinburgh and Knowledge-Bridge (a cross cultural knowledge exchange organisation).

They are:

  • Professor Emmanuel Adegbite
  • Professor Samuel Aryee
  • Professor Mehdi Boussebaa
  • Professor Amon Chizema
  • Professor Nelarine Cornelius
  • Professor Lola Dada
  • Professor Patricia Daley
  • Professor Ken Kamoche
  • Professor Collins Ntim
  • Professor Jacinta Nwachukwu
  • Professor Tazeeb Rajwani
  • Professor Bamidele Adebisi
  • Dr Sola Adesola
  • Professor Appolinaire Djikeng
  • Professor Kevin Ibeh
  • Dr Judy Muthuri
  • Professor Chukwumerije Okereke
  • Professor Paul Olomolaiye
  • Professor Engobo Emeseh
  • Professor Onyeka Osuji
  • Professor Waymond Rodgers
  • Professor Kenneth Amaeshi

We are grateful to them all.