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Progressing race equality in higher education

Published: 27/04/2015

As the assessment process for ECU’s race equality charter mark begins, Gary Loke, Head of Policy, reflects on why ECU developed the charter mark, and remarks on the higher education sector’s current progress in race equality.

Our annual statistical report shows that there are more UK-national black and minority ethnic (BME) staff working in higher education (HE) now than there were eight years ago (7.8% of UK national staff in 2012/13 compared with 5.4% in 2003/04). However, this is still below UK population demographics – the BME population was recorded as 14% in the 2011 census.

In terms of the experience of BME staff, we know from our research, that issues around career progression and retention continue to be of concern, as does the ongoing degree attainment gap between BME and white students, which has serious implications for the pipeline of future BME academics.

In March 2015, we published new research  which suggests that UK BME academics are significantly more likely to consider moving to an overseas university than their white peers. Alarmingly, one distinct perception among respondents to the research was that ethnic diversity is not valued in UK HE. Respondents also reported that subtle forms of racism and micro-aggression impacted on their careers, which sometimes led to feelings of isolation.

This growing body of evidence and research led ECU to develop the race equality charter mark. As I noted in a recent journal article and video on the topic, the charter mark is focussed on culture change: we must create inclusive institutional cultures in our HE sector. We hope the charter mark will inspire open and honest dialogue in order that the sector really starts to value race equality.

Our task now is to assess the race equality charter mark applications, learn from and refine the process. Simultaneously, we must continue to address the challenges and barriers that BME staff face in UK HE.

With this in mind, we are pleased to be working with the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education on a summit on BME Leadership in Higher Education. The event will be an opportunity to build on the progress we have made through the race equality charter mark, reflect on the wide body of research (both ECU’s and beyond) on the experience of BME staff and students and consider how we can move towards dismantling barriers and developing BME leaders in HE.