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Advancing equality and diversity in universities and colleges


Minority ethnic staff

Addressing barriers to career development and progression experienced by minority ethnic staff.

ECU’s research into the experiences of black and minority ethnic staff working in higher education found that there are many barriers to development and progression.

Our research found that staff members from minority ethnic backgrounds:

  • can feel that their leadership ability is questioned
  • assumptions are often made that they are in junior positions even when they occupy senior (eg professorial) roles
  • have reported negative assumptions being made about their abilities
  •  report experiences of invisibility, isolation, marginalisation and racial discrimination in HE
  • report experiencing heavy workloads, disproportionate levels of scrutiny compared with their white counterparts
  • a lack of mentoring and support for career development, and difficulties in gaining promotion
  • lecturers teaching in the areas of ‘race’, equality and multiculturalism report that these subjects are often designated as low status when performed by BME staff, yet they appear to acquire higher status when performed by white staff
  • report having fewer opportunities to develop research capacity and enhance their promotion prospects
Barriers to career progression for minority ethnic staff >

Recommendations to address these issues include:

  • Training and accountability: line managers and departmental managers should receive specific training to ensure they are managing fairly and equitably. Department leads should be held accountability for the inclusivity of their department and ensuring issues such as those outlined above are addressed.
  • Good quality data collection, analysis by specific ethnic group and transparency in how data is shared and disseminated. This includes qualitative data gathering, staff surveys and monitoring of outcomes in different areas (for example promotions and grievances).
  • Review of policies and practices to identify different outcomes by ethnicity, and identification of actions to address any issues highlighted. This includes reviewing mechanisms for reporting discrimination.
  • Implementing positive action initiatives. These might include increased opportunities for networking, mentoring and work shadowing.
Retaining minority ethnic staff >

Anecdotal evidence, and articles in the media suggest that black and minority ethnic UK academics may move overseas to progress their academic career at higher rates, and for different or additional reasons than their white counterparts.

ECU commissioned a research team from the University of Southampton, led by Dr Kalwant Bhopal to establish:

  • The motivations of individuals who have moved overseas
  • Their experiences of overseas HE, compared with UK HE
  • Whether the pattern is different for different ethnic groups
  • Whether the pattern is different by gender and academic discipline
  • What would attract individuals to return to UK HE

Early findings

The implications of the research for institutions are significant:

  • International institutions are monopolising on the dissatisfaction of talented  UK minority ethnic academics, creating a ‘brain drain’ within UK higher education.
  • UK higher education operates in an international landscape. It is reputationally damaging to discover that UK minority ethnic academics may prefer to work overseas in UK institutions with which they are familiar and potentially educated within. It could impact on the recruitment of international staff and students
  • UK teaching and learning will be impacted by a lack of minority ethnic academics. The NUS has previously identified that minority ethnic students want to be taught by a representative workforce. If minority ethnic academics are more likely to move overseas it reduces the pool of UK academics from which to recruit.
  • It impacts on the quality of research in the UK, potentially limiting research teams to groups with less divergence in background, experience, perspective, skills and knowledge.
  • There are economic costs associated with the findings. Staff who feel happy and safe in their role are not only more motivated, but they are likely to be more focussed on their job as they are not preoccupied with moving on (or in this case, overseas). Additionally, high staff turnover is expensive and also reputationally damaging.

Full findings will be released later in 2014.