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Race equality: start the conversation to end the frustration

Claire Herbert, manager of ECU’s Race Equality Charter, calls for honest conversations at all levels across the sector

ClaireH website

Here at ECU, we are continually frustrated by annual statistics which highlight stark racial inequalities within higher education, with very little progress to report.

For too long the higher education sector has been limited in reaching its full potential. Until all individual staff members and students are able to participate, progress and succeed, the sector is putting a cap on what it can achieve.

After three years of development, consultation and trialling, ECU will next week launch our Race Equality Charter (REC). ECU’s REC aims to increase the representation, progression and success of minority ethnic staff and students within higher education.

On 20 January we award our first eight REC awards, and thank all of the other higher education institutions which have been involved in helping us create this important initiative.

Of course, simply receiving an award doesn’t achieve racial equality in itself. The Bronze award recognises institutions which have analysed and identified racial inequalities within their structures, processes and culture, and have subsequently developed solid actions for how they plan to change. Their REC award is a baseline from which to progress, and they must re-apply, demonstrating that progress, every four years. However, even as a baseline, achieving a REC award is not easy.

The REC guiding principles highlight the need to acknowledge racial inequalities as complex, covert and everyday, requiring long-term, systemic solutions to bring about cultural change. This is the starting point, the beginning of a deep and honest discussion within each institution about race, racism and what needs to be changed.

Just opening up these discussions can be difficult. To help institutions have those debates at the institutional level, ECU needs to have those debates at the national level.

To help us with this, ECU is proud to announce our five REC patrons. Our patrons are experts in their own fields, as well as being tireless in their commitment to eradicating racial inequalities from their sector. Our patrons understand higher education, and are committed to ensuring the UK sector remains world class through its relevance to and representation of our 21st century society.

Our patrons are supportive of the sector and REC, but they are willing to challenge, as without challenge, we will never change. We’re looking forward to the debate, and hope you will join the conversation.

Professor Aneez Esmail

Professor of general practice at the University of Manchester

‘I think we have a real problem in our universities. Despite increasing numbers of black and ethnic minority (BME) students, the senior leadership of these institutions is overwhelmingly white and male.

We must be prepared to tackle the deep structural problems that prevents the talent that is represented in the large number of BME staff working in our universities from realising their potential.

Achieving a more diverse leadership will strengthen our institutions and encouraging universities to engage with the Race Equality Charter will help us in achieving this objective.’

Professor Kevin Hylton

Professor of equality and diversity in sport, leisure and education, Leeds Beckett University

‘At a time when higher education is being made increasingly aware of the racialised inequalities negatively impacting many staff and students I am pleased to be collaborating with ECU to improve the sector’s overall performance in this area.

The Race Equality Charter is an excellent step in the right direction and I am honoured to be a patron.’

Dr Nicola Rollock

Dr Nicola Rollock, deputy director of the Centre for research in race and education, University of Birmingham

‘ECU’s Race Equality Charter is bold and forward thinking. It is a crucial tool in enabling universities to understand, challenge and ultimately address racism and race inequalities.

If taken seriously, we could witness a significant and long overdue improvement in the higher education experiences and outcomes of Black and minority ethnic faculty, staff and students across the UK.’

Professor Laura Serrant

Professor of community and public health nursing, University of Wolverhampton

‘Race equality continues to be a challenging but essential indicator of a mature, forward thinking society. It is only right that higher education, as one of the key organisations responsible for producing our future leaders and citizens, champion this as a measure of our commitment to this role.

I am proud to be appointed as a patron of the new Race Equality Charter and will endeavour to do all I can to ensure its success.’