Open Menu Close Menu

Home Blog Although far from perfect, the HE sector has the chance to lead the way in tackling race inequality

Although far from perfect, the HE sector has the chance to lead the way in tackling race inequality

Published: 21/10/2016

Gemma Tracey reflects on how HE leaders can provide a comprehensive response to EHRC's recent report: Healing a divided Britain: the need for a comprehensive race equality strategy.

GemmaT-website51 years after the original Race Relations Act, a recent report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission illustrates that racism and discrimination in very much part of life in Britain, including in our universities.

If you still need evidence of racial inequalities, it’s here

In the conversations we have with individuals who are working to tackle racism and racial inequalities within our universities one of the recurring frustrations is that some individuals are unwilling to acknowledge that there is even a problem.

When funding is sought to tackle challenges such as the minority ethnic degree attainment gap, all too often there is a request for more information and data to be presented as evidence that a problem really exists.

EHRC’s recent report, Healing a divided Britain: the need for a comprehensive race equality strategy, provides this evidence.

In over 50 pages it uses a wealth of data and analysis to show that racial inequalities and racism are unfortunately very much a part of life in 21st century Britain. As David Isaac, Chair of the EHRC notes: ‘Our aim must be a society in which those born into families of a particular background are not automatically condemned as second-class citizens. We need to create a fair society in which our origins do not determine our destinies. This is regrettably still a long way from our grasp.

Discrimination in HE

The evidence provided indicates that entrenched racial inequalities and discrimination are very much a part of our higher education sector, as well as wider society which impacts on our staff and students on and off campus.

  • A higher proportion of White undergraduate students received a first/2:1 degree (76.3%) compared with ethnic minority undergraduates (60.3%). The gap was particularly high for Black male undergraduates (46.2%) compared with White male undergraduates (73.5%).
  • The unemployment rate for White workers with degrees is 2.3%, for ethnic minority graduates this is 5.9%.
  • Black, Asian and minority ethnic workers’ with degrees are two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than White graduates. In addition, ethnic minority workers with GCSE equivalents and basic level qualifications are more than twice as likely to be out of work (TUC, 2016).
  • Over the last five years, the number of young ethnic minority people in the UK who are long-term unemployed has almost doubled, whereas for young White people it fell slightly.
  • Across Great Britain, Black and Asian workers are moving into more insecure forms of employment at higher rates than White workers. Black and Asian workers were more than twice as likely to be in agency work in 2014 (TUC, 2015a).
  • Race hate on railway networks across Great Britain rose by 37 per cent between 2011 and 2015.
  • A Black man is still five times more likely to be stopped and searched than a White man in England and Wales.

To quote ECU’s Race Equality Charter manager Claire Herbert, ‘Here at ECU, we are continually frustrated by annual statistics which highlight stark racial inequalities within higher education, with very little progress to report’.

University leaders may be shocked, and rightly saddened, by these figures. It is vital that higher education acknowledges is that these figures reflect the day-to-day reality for BME students and staff within our universities.

A comprehensive approach

The EHRC’s report highlights how entrenched and far-reaching race inequality remains in our country, and as a result they are calling for the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments to address race inequality and discrimination in a comprehensive and coordinated way.

In this regard, the higher education sector is ahead of many other areas of public life. ECU has been working with higher education institutions for over ten years – we realised several years ago that the individual race equality work being done within a number of universities would not be enough on its own to make a lasting difference.

As the report states, ‘by addressing individual issues in a piecemeal way, without consideration of causes, drivers and levers for change, actions taken are unlikely to be effective in the long term or provide significant and sustainable change.’

This was the thinking behind ECU’s Race Equality Charter, a systemic change programme first developed in 2010 with and for universities to create a comprehensive framework for universities to tackle these problems and create sustainable change. Designed to take the holistic approach that the EHRC is calling for, the Race Equality Charter supports universities in their work to improve the representation, progression and success of minority ethnic staff and students within higher education.

An opportunity to reshape society

It is 51 years since the original Race Relations Act of 1965. Looking at this report it is clear that although progress has been made over the last half century, much, much more needs to be done. Are we going to be having the same conversation in another 51 years, or is the higher education sector going to take the lead?

ECU’s Race Equality Charter provides universities with the type of comprehensive framework that EHRC is calling on government to adopt at a national level; a strategy that examines in a deep and meaningful way the causes of racial inequalities and considers the ways in which change can be made.

We therefore urge university leaders to consider signing up to the Charter, committing to the principles and to working towards a full award within three years of membership. Charter members can learn from each other and work together to advance race equality and ensure the higher education sector is truly a meritocracy where individuals progress and thrive on ability and hard work, unaffected by their ethnicity or race.

Further reading