The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) think-tank has proposed various recommendations on how to reduce racial inequality across institutions.
The recommendations were part of a report known as “The white elephant in the room: ideas for reducing racial inequality in higher education”.
The first was that “all higher education institutes should participate in the Race Equality Charter”, which only a third of universities have applied to as of now, according to the report’s editor and HEPI’s Policy Officer Hugo Rale-Davis.
Institutions should also “facilitate conversations about race” and ensure that work by Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) “to tackle racial inequalities is recognised and rewarded”.
Moreover, faculties “should look to their curricula and to other ways of addressing inequalities in their subject, such as Studentships for BME candidates”, and “[d]iversity practitioners within institutions need senior management diversity champions to rely upon”.
The report added that “well-meaning but vague actions which are unlikely to effect change” should be avoided.
“For instance, implicit bias training should be used in a targeted way to map how biases are playing out in an organisation and to tackle specific issues,” it wrote.
Commenting on the report, Mr Dale-Ravis said: “Racial inequality is in danger of being an accepted fact in higher education. It is too easy for people to shrug and treat it like someone else’s problem.”
“Change needs to come from all areas, from vice-chancellors and senior management but also from academic departments and to affect everything a university does, right down to the interactions between colleagues and the way we talk about race.”
Racial inequality is in danger of being an accepted fact in higher education. It is too easy for people to shrug and treat it like someone else’s problem
– Hugo Rale-Davis
Former Vice President for Higher Education at the National Union of Students (NUS) Amatey Doku pointed out that universities have to “address the 14% attainment gap between BME and white students”.
NUS Black Students’ Campaign Officer Fope Olaleye welcomed the report, adding: “We know that the staff and students who experience institutional racism are often expected to shoulder the burden for making change, and that our postgraduate systems disproportionately favour white student progression into academia.”
Acknowledging the “useful approaches” proposed, Ms Olaleye emphasised that there is no “simple single solution to the complex mechanisms that end in racialised outcomes”.
She also recognised “ambitious targets” set by the Office for Students (OfS), where “institutions must be decisive and undertake widespread action for change, including funding support for student-led change”.
“We welcome publications such as these that help to guide our institutions towards true reform,” she concluded.
Mirroring the report’s findings was research by the University and College Union (UCU), which revealed that 90% of BME staff in higher education “faced barriers to promotion, and many black staff in universities face a culture of bullying and stereotyping”.
The union called for “greater commitments to ensuring BME students can get a foot on the ladder of academia,” citing research that “just 1.2% of PhD places funded by UK Innovation and Research in the last 3 years went to black or black mixed students”.
UCU General Secretary Jo Grady described the report as “a timely reminder that we still have a long way to go when it comes to achieving equality for BME staff and students in our universities.”
She continued: “There is no room for complacency when it comes to tackling these persistent barriers to access and progression.”