The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Lemn Sissay launches university scheme to boost number of black males in legal sector

“These are radical times”, The University of Manchester is a “radical university” and “radical is about access”, argues University Chancellor as he launches the Lemn Sissay Bursaries


Poet and broadcaster Lemn Sissay, the Chancellor of The University of Manchester, launches a new university bursary designed to increase the number of black males embarking on careers in law and the criminal justice sector

Working with community organisations, schools, regulators and legal and criminal justice professionals, the project aims to address black and minority ethnic under-representation in higher education and the professions – as well as to promote the relationship between the University and Manchester’s African & Caribbean communities.

The Lemn Sissay Bursaries specifically aim to address the obstacles faced by male students of African & Caribbean heritage who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, offering eligible applicants an annual grant of £3,000, funded by the School of Law.

Speaking to The Mancunion, Lemn Sissay said: “the vision of the University of Manchester is to be one of the leading universities in the world by 2020.  It centres on our three core goals:  world-class research, outstanding learning and student experience, and social responsibility. When the director of Social Responsibility at University of Manchester, Graham Smith, identified that only 14 of the 12,000 law students over the past three years were black males and none were from Greater Manchester something had to be done.”

Lemn suggested that these figures were not “not unique to The University of Manchester”, though “the Lemn Sissay Law Bursaries are.”

He added that it was”important to see these bursaries alongside the broader nature of the many bursaries that the university offers.”

The bursaries are on offer to any student that is: male; Black African, Black Caribbean, ‘Mixed’ Black African Caribbean heritage/background/origin; has not attended a fee-paying school in the UK; has not attended a fee-paying school outside of the UK for which the fees are more than nominal.

Additionally, applicants must have had experience of being in Local Authority care, live in a “disadvantaged” neighbourhood, have been eligible for free school meals at a UK senior school (if under 21) or in receipt of means-tested benefit (if over 21) or the applicants current or most recent educational institution must have a performance lower than national average

Having grown up in care, Lemn said: “I am immensely proud to have these bursaries named after me, as I fully understand how difficult it can be for people from my background to advance in life”.

The University Chancellor added: “Our University aims to make itself available to all and this is one step of the journey in that direction. We are proud of our diversity.  We are proud of our access programme.  When a statistic like this arises we take action.  These are radical times. We are a radical university. Radical about access. Radical about success.  Radical about equal opportunities, radical about research and radical about student experience.”

Barrister Tunde Okewale MBE believes that that bursaries “will help to improve and increase the diversity within the legal industry, as well as facilitating a more open and transparent dialogue about racial inequality in higher education.”

Senior lecturer Dr Dawn Edge, The University’s Academic Lead for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, said: “This initiative signals an important step in progressing with our local communities and partner organisations to ensure that people from all backgrounds feel a sense of ownership of and belonging to The University of Manchester and its cultural institutions.”

The bursary will be launched at an event which will feature debates with Greater Manchester Black & Asian Police Association, youth workers, and musicians about combating the recent rise in violence, cuts to local services, the role of the police, and making our communities safer.

Attendees will also be able to get advice on making an application to the University, working there and accessing its cultural institutions.

The event will take place from 6-8pm on Wednesday 13 September at the West Indian Sports and Social Club, Westwood St, Manchester M14 4SW.

Image rights: Chris Boland