ECU’s response to the open letter regarding the USS pensions scheme and ECU’s equality charters
Through the key principles in our Equality Charters, Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) recognises that progressive institutional policies, practices, actions and culture contribute towards gender and race equality. We recognise the potential impact of proposed changes to the pension scheme on women and BME staff in particular, and welcome UUK’s commitment to undertaking an equality impact assessment of the proposed changes. It is our understanding consultation will be undertaken with all USS members, and we encourage members to take this opportunity to raise their concerns directly with the USS, and well as continuing to engage in discussions and consultations within their institutions, who are members of UUK.
UUK and GuildHE are the original subscribing member of various UK higher education sector agencies including ECU, Higher Education Academy (HEA), Higher Education Careers Service Unit, Higher Education Statistics Agency, Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (LFHE), Office of the Independent Adjudicator, Quality Assurance Agency, UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, and Jisc.
As a subscribing member, and accordance with ECU’s Articles of Association (section 17), UUK’s membership can only be terminated if either UUK ceases to exist or UUK resigns from the board. This year, ECU is merging with LFHE and the HEA to become Advance HE. UUK and GuildHE will be the subscribing members of Advance HE.
ECU’s Equality Charters operate independently of UUK and are assessed by peer-review panels, not ECU staff. Panels are composed of academics and technical services staff, human resources or equality and diversity practitioners with experience of higher education, other professional services staff with experience of higher education, specialists and students.
The Athena SWAN and Race Equality Charters provide frameworks with which to identify issues and barriers to equality and to develop and commit to actions addressing these issues. Although by no means the ultimate objective, charter awards recognise and reward the commitment and action evidenced by institutions and departments toward equality, and provide a rigorous and progressive standard with which to maintain and promote progress.
Additionally, ECU has formalised processes for objections to applications and withdrawal of awards which can be found on our website, which enable us to take action if information comes to light which is material to the applicant’s eligibility for the award.
We encourage colleagues to continue to engage with equality, diversity and inclusion activities in their institution. Thanks to the hard work and efforts of engaged colleagues across the country, there is a vast amount of good practice underway both within the framework of the Athena SWAN and Race Equality Charters and beyond, and we encourage colleagues to continue to drive this good practice forward. We recognise participating in a self-assessment team to prepare charter submissions is a big commitment and we advise that this work should be recognised accordingly and appropriately in any workload allocation model, and through recognition in appraisal and promotion systems.
The Athena SWAN Charter is founded on ten high-level principles, demonstrating institutions’ commitment to acknowledging and addressing broad issues known to create barriers to gender equality across the sector, including the gender pay gap. With regards to revising the Athena SWAN framework, ECU is currently commissioning an independent evaluation of the Athena SWAN Charter to build on previous assessments conducted in 2011 and 2013.
Parallel to this, over the coming months ECU will be setting up a task and finish group composed of sector leaders to review the Athena SWAN Charter processes and will be consulting with the sector, particularly with a view to addressing concerns whilst upholding its integrity and progressive nature. Colleagues are encouraged to subscribe to our mailing list (firstname.lastname@example.org) on which updates on the timings and structure of these consultations will be shared.