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Raj Mann

University of York
YCEDE Project Manager

I​​ am the Yorkshire Consortium for Equity in Doctoral Education (YCEDE) Project Manager (PM)- the world’s longest job title, I think!

I am from a  first generation, working class, minority ethnic  background in a mining town in Yorkshire. My community and school had very little progression onto Higher Education (HE), especially as a female within a culture such as mine. ​From a young age, I was acutely aware of how my background made a significant difference to the range of opportunities available to me and it was from this point that I felt the need to change the system. I applied to be part of an access programme with the University of Sheffield at the age of 14 and it was this that inspired me to work even harder because I believed  that gaining access to HE would enable me to make real change.

I completed my LLB Law (Hons) degree at The University of Sheffield and then went on to complete my Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Masters in Law at BPP Law in Leeds. ​Although Law is my background, my passion has always been fairness and equity. I really wanted to believe in a meritocracy and that hard work alone would be enough for social mobility. ​However, sadly, racial inequalities still exist and there are still many barriers in the way of progression in the world and workplace.

I was faced with a difficult choice of whether I should take a job for a legal training contract that I felt I ought to do after spending so much time, effort, money and training to be a lawyer, or to continue to pursue my passions in the equity and diversity and inclusion sector. On reflection, I am so glad I made the right choice for me. University wasn’t just about academia for me, it was about realising what opportunities are available and about raising my aspirations and my appetite for new experiences that might not have ordinarily been open to people from my background. I have been dedicating my career to making real change and I can’t see myself doing any other type of work. I have really enjoyed working with younger aged pupils and students and there has been real progress in widening access work at this level. However, I can see that at postgraduate level study, the inequalities are still very real and it is through my work on YCEDE that I seek to address these barriers to attempt to ‘level the playing field’, for all, despite what background people are from. It’s important to support the progression and to at the very least provide all of the knowledge to prospective students to enable them to realise the benefits of a career in research (in professional careers and not just academic), to allow them to make informed decisions. As with younger students, where the benefits of HE are not always clear due to the lack of information, the same is true of those who may not have even considered research due to the lack of knowledge and transparency. I was one such student who always thought research could not be accessed by ‘someone like me’. Now I know this is not the case, I am striving to help others overcome this barrier. 

My lived experiences as well as the skills that I have developed working with a huge range of people and stakeholders, in various EDI roles, places me in a unique position to make a difference. I am really enjoying the role as overall YCEDE PM and continue to learn new things every day. The role enables me to support and direct colleagues in a leadership role to inspire the YCEDE team to work together to make real, impactful and lasting change. I am confident by the end of the project that we will have achieved our aims and objectives and hopefully we will be helping to embed the changes across the sector, to ensure a more just and fair world!