MailOnline muddles professorship ethnicity figures

12 October 2021
What was claimed

Black scientists hold only 3.5% of professor posts.

Our verdict

Incorrect. In 2018/19 black academics held just 0.5% of STEM professor posts, but 3.5% of black STEM academic staff were professors.

“Senior black scientists claim research in the UK is 'institutionally racist' after study found they hold only 3.5% of professor posts”

An article on MailOnline claimed that research from the Royal Society found that black people hold 3.5% of professor posts in British universities.

This confuses the facts and isn’t true. The Royal Society found that in 2018/19 3.5% of black academic staff working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) were professors, not that 3.5% of professors were black. By comparison 11.9% of white academic staff working in STEM were professors.

The Royal Society’s figures show that in 2018/19 there were 11,895 STEM academics working at the F1 Professor level with a known ethnicity. Just 65 (0.5%) were black.

Full Fact contacted MailOnline to explain the issue, after which the website promptly corrected the article. The corrected article claims more recent data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency shows the proportion of all professors (not just STEM professors) who are black is 0.7%.

The original MailOnline article made the incorrect claim a number of times, in the headline, subheading and in the first paragraph of the article—but also used the correct figures in the sixth paragraph and in a graph.

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Black people are underrepresented among UK professors

In its report, the Royal Society notes that professors are more likely to be older and the data shows in 2018/19 0.6% of STEM professors over 50 were black compared to 1.9% of the UK population over 50.

Black people accounted for 1.7% of all STEM academic staff and 2.5% of non-STEM academic staff, while making up 3.0% of the UK adult population.  

While parts of the MailOnline’s original report may have given the impression that black people are slightly overrepresented among UK professors, the truth is they are significantly underrepresented. 

We took a stand for good information.

We contacted Mail Online about this.

They agreed with our fact check and amended their article.


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