Anglia Ruskin launches bursary to improve children's book illustration diversity

Anglia Ruskin launches bursary to improve children's book illustration diversity

Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) has launched a new inclusivity bursary worth £11,200 to study for a masters degree in children's book illustration. 

The bursary is being supported by the publishing industry, including literary agency Bell Lomax Moreton and Bloomsbury Publishing, and aims to help overcome some of the barriers that prevent students from different underrepresented groups taking up this area of study. ARU has also partnered with the charity Picture Hooks to provide mentorship for the year following the student’s graduation to help them forge a successful career as a professional children’s book illustrator. 

According to research commissioned by the charity BookTrust, only 7% of children’s books published in the UK in 2019 were by authors or illustrators from a BAME background. Research by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) found that while 33.5% of primary school children in the UK are from a minority ethnic background, only 7% of the books for ages three to 11 published in the UK between 2017 to 2019 featured characters of colour.

The university says it is "proud to have a diverse student body and has achieved huge success in tackling the difference in performance between underrepresented groups" but noted "students from different ethnic and economic backgrounds are still underrepresented in the masters in children’s book illustration course", and says the new bursary has been introduced to help address this. 

Shelley Jackson, course leader, said: "There is a pressing need in our industry for children to see more diversity in the characters and stories they read. One contributing factor to this issue, of course, is a lack of diversity within children’s book creators. Publishers say they want to produce more diverse books, but they need authors and illustrators from different backgrounds to provide authentic voices.

“This can only really happen when the diversity of children’s book creators reflects that of society. And this is a vicious cycle, because if you don’t grow up seeing yourself in books, why would you think that making books is a thing you can do for a living?

“We can see this same imbalance in our UK student body. We need to work together with industry to disrupt this cycle and this bursary is just the start for us. We hope that with further support we can expand in future years to offer even more opportunities. In addition to applicants from diverse ethnic, racial and economic backgrounds, we also welcome those from other underrepresented groups to apply for the bursary.”

Olu Oke, an illustrator from Battersea in London, who has just completed the MA and will graduate from ARU later this year, said: “After nearly 20 years of trying to break into the industry I started to question my skills and the worth of my voice. The MA gave me confidence to speak out, to find my creative language, to hone my skills. Whatever the future may hold for me, doing this MA has been a pivotal moment in my career and my personal life."

Paul Moreton, m.d. at Bell Lomax Moreton, added: “We love children’s illustration and are delighted to be helping to fund and support ARU’s new inclusivity bursary, an important practical, tangible step towards growing a more diverse community of artists making books for all children, everywhere.” 

ARU’s new inclusivity bursary is open to applicants who are eligible for UK fees and facing financial disadvantage, and/or are from an underrepresented group. The closing date for the 2021 bursary is 13th August at 5 p.m., and further information is available here