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Race equality: A positive step forward in higher education

Published: 06/05/2015

Dr Kalwant Bhopal from the University of Southampton reflects on how the higher education sector can work to improve race equality.

Kalwant picThis week a copy of ECU’s report will arrive on the desks of vice-chancellors, HR directors and equality and diversity practitioners in all UK higher education institutions (HEIs). ECU’s report, researched and written at the University of Southampton, Academic flight: how to encourage black and minority ethnic (BME) academics to stay in UK higher education, published earlier this month, aims to explore various factors. First, the extent to which UK academics consider moving overseas to work in higher education and what push and pull factors affect this and most importantly, what UK higher education (HE) can do to persuade BME academics to stay.

The research suggests that BME UK academics are significantly more likely to consider a move to an overseas university than their white UK counterparts. While respondents did report positive experiences of working in UK HE, many also reported the subtle, covert racism and unequal practices that take place in the HE sector. We know that the numbers of BME academics in senior positions remains low – there are only 18 professors from BME backgrounds in all UK higher education institutions – but what exactly are UK HEIs doing about this?

I am very excited about ECU’s race equality charter which is currently being piloted in UK HEIs. Just like the Athena SWAN Charter, which was introduced 10 years ago to advance the position of women in STEMM subjects, the race equality charter will focus on advancing race equality and HEIs will be asked for evidence to show how they have addressed race equality in their organisations. This is definitely a positive step forward.

In our research, we also suggest that race equality is prioritised in the HE sector; greater transparency is needed in recruitment and promotions, mentoring support systems need to be put in place to support BME academics on their career trajectories, and more importantly a recognition that subtle, covert forms of racism exist in the academy. In effect, we need greater change in the academy, and we need it now. So, please take some time to read our report and consider ways in which your university can take forward issues of diversity, inclusion and equity in order that we do not lose our wonderful talent overseas.