Santander Universities partners with The Open University and FutureLearn to launch Union Black: Britain’s Black Cultures and Steps to Anti-Racism

•    The free online course will be the first of its kind to be available to four million(2) staff and students at UK Universities over the next three years 
•    Developed in response to Universities UK’s “Tackling racial harassment in higher education” report(1), the course has been designed to drive cultural change across the higher education sector

Santander, through Santander Universities UK, and The Open University today announce the launch of Union Black: Britain’s Black Cultures and Steps to Anti-Racism, a free online education programme for all university communities across the UK, designed to drive cultural change across the higher education sector.

Developed in partnership with The Open University and leading social learning platform, FutureLearn, the programme responds to Universities UK’s “Tackling racial harassment in higher education” report(1)  which shone a stark light on the racial inequalities that exist across the higher education sector. The report called on universities to improve racial literacy among senior leaders, staff and students and issued a set of recommendations for institutions to implement including “training developed from an anti-racist perspective”.

The new course will explore Black cultures in Britain and provide learners with an understanding of the origins and experience of Black British history and dispel myths in order to inform, challenge and contribute to the anti-racism agenda.

The programme has been developed by leading academics including Professor Marcia Wilson, Dean of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at The Open University and includes contributions from BAFTA-award-winning film-maker David Olusoga, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice David Lammy MP, human rights activist Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, artistic director of The Young Vic Kwame Kwei-Armah, and former England goalkeeper David James MBE, among many others. The course has also been guided by a steering committee including Baroness Valerie Amos and Karen Blackett OBE. The presenter of the course is TV host and former Blue Peter presenter Ayo Akinwolere. 

Hosted on FutureLearn, the six-hour course will be delivered through a mixture of online learning content, discussion forums, reading materials and interactive activities, and will be freely available to all staff and students at UK universities over the next three years, making it the first programme of its kind to potentially reach over four million students across the UK. 

All students who complete the course will also have the opportunity to considered for one of 100 Santander Development Grants of £500 each(3)  to support their studies. The awards are being offered by Santander Universities, and administered via The Open University, where awarded students will be invited to take part in a live thought leadership event which will bring together high-profile ambassadors for a curated panel discussion. 

Matt Hutnell, Director, Santander Universities UK, said: “Through all our programmes and initiatives Santander Universities aims to help drive a fair, diverse, and transformative educational landscape. Given Santander’s unique relationship with universities across the UK we identified an opportunity to support institutions to implement Universities UK's guidance on tackling racial harassment and addressing racial inequality in higher education. We are pleased to be working in partnership with The Open University and FutureLearn on this key initiative and to be able to offer Union Black, not only to our University Partners, but to all universities across the UK.”

Professor Marcia Wilson, Dean of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at The Open University commented: “We are so proud to have created Union Black in partnership with Santander Universities and FutureLearn. Discussing your cultural traditions, whatever your background, is an accessible and engaging way to start a conversation around racism and what it means to you – and we hope this course encourages that behaviour. Giving free access to education and training to students and staff is important if we want to bring about real change in institutions across the UK.”

Union Black course presenter Ayo Akinwolere said: “I’m delighted to be the presenter of Union Black. It has been a mission of mine for many years to equal the playing field within society. The more we have meaningful conversations, the better we can understand where we’re lacking and furthermore implement the real change that’s needed.”

Yvonne Chien, Chief Growth Officer at FutureLearn, said: “At FutureLearn, we are dedicated to transforming access to education in order to empower individuals to work towards a better future for all. We are thrilled that Santander and The Open University have chosen FutureLearn to host the Union Black course which aims to promote further understanding and cultural change in the education sector. FutureLearn’s social learning platform, which reaches over 17 million learners and achieves high engagement rates and satisfaction scores of more than 90 per cent across our courses, is the ideal platform to help educators and learners change their lives and change the world.”

Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill said: “I'm pleased to support Santander’s Union Black initiative. Encouraging conversations and opening dialogue is key a part of tackling racism. It’s fantastic the course will be freely accessible to so many students and staff across the UK, building an increased level of understanding and further steps towards making a difference.”

For more information on the course and to sign up please visit the Santander Scholarships Platform here:

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1)    Universities UK report called “Tackling racial harassment in higher education”.
2)    This estimate is based on the total number of students and staff in universities over a three-year period, based on figures published by Universities UK.
3)    100 recipients of the Santander grants will be selected by random allocation each academic year. The awards are being offered by Santander Universities and will be administered via The Open University. An initial 50 grants will be offered in late 2021, with an additional 50 grants being offered in early 2022.

Santander UK is a financial services provider in the UK that offers a wide range of personal and commercial financial products and services. At 30 June 2021, the bank had around 20,900 employees and serves around 14 million active customers, via a nationwide branch network, telephone, mobile and online banking. Santander UK is subject to the full supervision of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) in the UK. Santander UK plc customers’ eligible deposits are protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) in the UK.

Banco Santander (SAN SM, STD US, BNC LN) is a leading retail and commercial bank, founded in 1857 and headquartered in Spain. It has a meaningful presence in 10 core markets in the Europe, North America and South America regions, and is one of the largest banks in the world by market capitalization. Its purpose is to help people and businesses prosper in a simple, personal and fair way. Santander is building a more responsible bank and has made a number of commitments to support this objective, including raising over €120 billion in green financing between 2019 and 2025, as well as financially empowering more than 10 million people over the same period. At the end of the first half of 2021, Banco Santander had €1.1 trillion in total funds, 150 million customers, of which 24.2 million are loyal and 45.3 million are digital, 10,000 branches and 190,000 employees.

About The Open University
The Open University (OU) is the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning. Since it began in 1969, the OU has taught more than two million students worldwide and has over 175,000 current students, including more than 7,000 overseas.

Over 76% of students are in full-time or part-time employment, and three out of five FTSE 100 companies have sponsored staff to take OU courses.

In the latest assessment exercise for university research (Research Excellence Framework, 2014), nearly three quarters (72%) of OU research was assessed as 4 or 3 star – the highest ratings available, awarded to research that is world-leading or internationally excellent. The OU is unique among UK universities having both an access mission and demonstrating research excellence.

Regarded as the UK’s major e-learning institution, the OU is a world leader in developing technology to increase access to education on a global scale. Its vast ‘open content portfolio’ includes free study units, as well as games, videos and academic articles, which have reached over 36 million people.