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Race research sees value in mentoring

Michael Prestage reports on an evaluation funded by the Commission for Racial Equality

A FLAGSHIP programme will this year provide mentors from 45 leading employers to students from 12 universities. The National Mentoring Consortium organises links between ethnic minority undergraduates and professionals from all cultural backgrounds.

The consortium was established to address the disadvantages faced by ethnic minority graduates in higher education and in seeking work. It grew over four years from a pilot scheme at the University of East London to a group of eight participating universities in 199596.

To evaluate the project the Commission for Racial Equality, in association with nine employers, commissioned and funded external research which was carried out in 199596.

It was intended to highlight areas of good practice and learning points that could be used to improve the programme. It would also be used to disseminate information among other potential and current schemes, particularly those that incorporate an element of race.

The research included interviews with former mentors and the students they worked with - university co-ordinators, employer representatives and Mentor Unit staff. It was the first time such information had been gained from those taking part.

The research concluded that "the NMC scheme provides an effective model for intervention to address the disadvantages faced by ethnic minority undergraduates. There is a need for consolidation of the NMC programme over the next three to five years to facilitate the development of longer-term relationships with the partner organisations that will maximise the evident benefits."

The students benefited from personal development, including increased confidence, elevated aspirations and improved interpersonal skills.

There was also an element of professional development reflected in such areas as increased knowledge of the procedures and requirements of the workplace. This was particularly true of recruitment procedures. There were opportunities to improve presentation or interview skills.

The report says: "The success of the mentoring relationship depended on a number of factors, including the selection and preparation of the students, the matching of mentor and student and the induction and the training provided to the mentor." It notes that a number of students identified the advantage of having a mentor from the same ethnic group.

Universities said there were benefits for themselves and the students. These included the implementation of equal opportunities and creating a welcoming and supportive environment for ethnic minority students. It also helped create a model for student support and assistance to equip students for work placements and graduate recruitment.

However, it was found the employers were not achieving the full range of benefits and the research found "the scheme often operated in isolation from other management development, appraisal or training programmes".

There was a further problem in that "mentors were often unclear about their organisation's reason for participation other than generalised statements about helping the students".

There had been some positive feedback from employers who cited benefits gained from the programme, including helping to implement equal opportunities and providing staff development for the mentors. It was also thought to strengthen involvement with local communities.

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