Bursary to improve diversity in children's books

Published: 5 August 2021 at 09:00

Cambridge campus

New £11,200 inclusivity bursary to study world-leading Masters course at ARU

Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) has launched an inclusivity bursary to help improve diversity within children’s book illustration, which remains a predominantly white, middle class profession in the UK.

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. And 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 3–11 published in the UK between 2017-2019 featured characters of colour.

ARU is proud to have a diverse student body and has achieved huge success in tackling the difference in performance between underrepresented groups. However, students from different ethnic and economic backgrounds are still underrepresented in the Masters in Children’s Book Illustration course cohort at ARU’s Cambridge School of Art, and the new £11,200 inclusivity bursary has been introduced to help address this.

The first of its kind in the UK, the bursary is being supported by the publishing industry – including Bell Lomax Moreton literary agency 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.

The bursary can be used to cover the full fees for the MA Children’s Book Illustration course, and 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.  

Since being launched in 2001, ARU’s MA in Children’s Book Illustration has become one of the leading illustration courses in the world, with students and graduates going on to win countless national and international awards. 

Recent successes include the Illustrated Books category at this year’s Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, the 2020 Carmelite Picture Book Prize, the inaugural £5,000 Queen’s Knickers Award, and the 2020 AOI World Illustration Award New Talent award, while ARU students have won the prestigious V&A Student Illustrator of the Year prize for five successive years (2016-2020).

Shelley Jackson, Course Leader for the MA in Children’s Book Illustration at ARU, 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.

“My advice to creatives from underrepresented communities be they Black, people of colour, LGBTQ+, neurologically, physically atypical, or other is: people are listening and looking, so if you don’t want others to talk for you or tell your stories, pick up your pencil, brush, whatever and draw and write your own. 

“At the moment there is a massive push to rectify decades, if not centuries, of misrepresentation.  So get to it!  Be part of the change, the new wave, and illustrate.  This new bursary is another wedge in the door that is being opened in children’s publishing.”


Paul Moreton, Managing Director of Bell Lomax Moreton literary agency, said:

“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.”  


Lucy Juckes and Vivian French of Picture Hooks said:

“We at Picture Hooks believe passionately that a career in children’s picture book illustration should be open to all, and we’re delighted to support this initiative. We live in a diverse society, and our children need to see themselves reflected in the books they read, and in the authors and illustrators who create them.”


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 13 August (5pm BST) and further information is available by visiting https://aru.ac.uk/student-life/preparing-for-university/help-with-finances/scholarships/childrens-book-illustration-bursary