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Higher education and tackling racial inequalities

Published: 06/10/2017

How far have we come?

As we mark the 30th anniversary of Black History Month in the UK, Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) is reflecting on the progress higher education has made in tackling racial inequalities, and how to achieve greater equality in the next 30 years.

We spoke to Professor Aneez Esmail, Professor of General Practice and race equality advocate at the University of Manchester about this.

How far have we come?

According to Professor Esmail it is undeniable that we have made progress within higher education:

‘I have been working in academia for 25 years and there’s no doubt that progress has been made. If I look at the number of black professors who are appointed, the numbers have gone up. There are many more black people appearing in the media – historians, professors and more. So clearly progress has been made.’

However, he reminds us that this is not sufficient, and notes that we shouldn’t have to wait another 30 years to see more progress.

ECU’s 2016 statistics report highlighted some alarming statistics. For example, only 7.8% of professors are from a black and minority ethnic (BME) background, with 1.6% of professors being BME women and 0.5% of professors being black. 50.8% of black students graduating with a 1st or 2:1 compared to 77.1% of white students.

What will help us going forward?

Professor Esmail recommends these strategies for making impactful and sustainable change:

1.Focus on outcomes

There must be a focus on outcomes and impact, rather than undertaking actions that are not making a difference. ECU’s Race Equality Charter requires institutions to undertake a thorough self-assessment, before creating and implementing an action plan. Universities must also start to evidence the impact of these actions on improving race equality.

2. Using training as a tool as part of a wider strategy

Training has come a long way, moving from a tokenistic approach to training that can deliver transformative experiences. Professor Esmail notes that white privilege and unconscious bias training had an eye-opening effect on the University of Manchester’s senior management team, enabling members to see their privilege for the first time. Training, though, must be combined with a wider strategy for advancing race equality.

Effective leaders of race equality combine knowledge and understanding of race and racism with personal insight into their own position within the construct of race. They are confident in negotiating the barriers that impede progress and creative in developing strategic and practical tools for advancing race equality. They understand the challenges that the work brings and are resilient in tackling them.

ECU offers a new bespoke race equality training course, designed to support individuals who are leading race equality work in their institutions to strengthen their understanding of race equality and develop the skills for effective culture change.  It introduces participants to key concepts within the field of race equality with the aim of improving knowledge and understanding about race and racism within a safe and reflective space.

ECU’s training and learning team has delivered training to over 50 institutions across England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. We offer a wide range of courses that are available to both ECU subscribers and non-subscribers. To book bespoke training, or find out more about the Race Equality Training, email

3.Using academic literature

Academic colleagues have been undertaking work and devising strategies for tackling racial inequalities for decades. Those with responsibility for equality, diversity and inclusion should be learning from the work that has already been done, and using this to inform their work.

Follow the Race Equality Charter on Twitter @EcuRaceCharter for the latest information about ECU’s Race Equality Charter. You can also view a thread of exhibitions, events, workshops and talks you can attend during Black History Month 2017.

Azaria Sanusi
Equality Charters Adviser