Staff equality in colleges in Scotland – how can we build on recent research?
In this blog post Dr Kevin Guyan, researcher at Advance HE, outlines key findings from the upcoming report ‘Equality in colleges in Scotland: results from the 2017 staff survey and focus groups’ and asks ‘What next?’ for equality and diversity in Scotland’s colleges.
Advance HE will soon launch the first major study of staff perceptions and experiences of equality in colleges in Scotland.
Dr Julia Halej, senior policy adviser at Advance HE, and I undertook this research in 2017 with policy input from Stephanie Millar, senior policy adviser at Advance HE, and the project’s advisory group.
The study consisted of a 37-question online survey, completed by staff at 25 of Scotland’s 26 colleges, and six focus groups at colleges across the country. More than 2,000 people completed the survey, around 15% of all staff working in colleges in Scotland.
The report presents quantitative analysis of the survey findings, as well as qualitative analysis of the survey’s freetext responses and focus group transcripts. Building on the research findings, the report concludes with 15 recommendations for colleges, Colleges Scotland, trade unions, College Development Network, Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and Advance HE.
Findings show that although respondents overwhelmingly believed that the college sector was committed to promoting equality and diversity, there remains key areas of concern including bullying and harassment, the promotions process and criteria, and lack of confidence among staff in disclosing equality information.
The publication of this research is particularly timely following recent coverage of sexual harassment in universities and colleges, as well as the release of experimental staff data from the SFC, which highlights, among other things, the underrepresentation of staff who disclosed as disabled.
Our analysis revealed that staff perceptions and experiences of equality differed by protected characteristic groups. As an example, we found that female survey respondents were more positive about all aspects of working life than male respondents. However, in survey freetext responses and in focus groups, female staff shared narratives that highlight a more complex picture of their experiences. For example:
There seems to be an embedded ‘old school’ network of male staff within FE, the general consensus is that if you are female and assertive then you are usually labelled as ‘difficult’ this is also reflective of the attitude towards gay and lesbian staff.
Female staff member
We also uncovered particular issues for disabled survey respondents. For example, disabled staff expressed significantly less agreement than non-disabled staff when asked about statements such as ‘I work in an inclusive environment’, ‘I feel respected by my peers’ and ‘my college is committed to promoting equality and diversity across all aspects of its work’.
Qualitative data from the research supported these findings. As noted by the participant below, some staff were reluctant to disclose equality information due to a lack of trust in the system:
Disclosed issues about my mental state and within 5 minutes my head of school knew about it even after asking HR to keep it confidential.
Male staff member
So where do we go from here? Findings presented in the report present a mixed picture of how staff perceive and experience equality in Scotland’s colleges and there is a clear need for more research and action. Advance HE intends to publish supplementary reports later in the year that explore some of the issues identified in greater depth. The research also provides a baseline for future staff equality surveys and a wealth of actionable insights from college staff on how to advance equality work in the sector.
Kevin Guyan will deliver a workshop on key findings from the report and ask ‘What next?’ for equality and diversity in colleges at the Scotland conference on 25 April.