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By Newsdesk

Monday, May 14, 2012.

People from ethnic minorities are at a “significant disadvantage” when working in universities, a new study has found.

The report’s author Professor Andrew Pilkington, of the University of Northampton, said that despite various government initiatives and new race equality legislation over the last dozen years, equality and diversity issues had “fallen down the agenda”.

Prof Pilkington said that the Equality Challenge Unit, set up in 2001 to develop race equality in higher education recruitment, had been criticised in an independent review for not fully supporting individual universities to make changes.

“The evaluation reveals that many key staff in universities do not believe in the importance of equal opportunities, and other research indicates that many staff are in fact highly sceptical of the efficacy of equal opportunities policies,“ he said.

Special funding had been provided from 2001 to 2004 to universities to modernise recruiting, including developing equal opportunities targets. But an evaluation of this found that the role of ethnic minority groups had received less emphasis than gender equality, he said.

A review of how universities had responded to the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, carried out in 2004, found that all but four universities had suitable policies in this area. But Professor Pilkington said that “the reality on the ground may be different.”

He quoted from a report carried out by the Gus John Partnership on race equality practice, which said “results suggest that many HEIs [universities] were still struggling to come to terms with what the legislation requires and that they remain on a steep learning curve.”

“The evaluations of these initiatives are, for all their limitations, quite interesting,” said Professor Pilkington. “While they tend to highlight positive developments and downplay negative ones, a careful examination of them reveals serious lacunae in the way many universities are pursuing equal opportunities and thereby race equality.

“Seen in this light, the evidence pointing to failures in data gathering and target setting suggests that many universities have not taken equal opportunities policies seriously.

“Analysis of the impact of different government initiatives has revealed that the changes afoot are much less remarkable than the continuities. The colour-blind initiatives had little impact at all in promoting race equality.

Prof Pilkington’s study for the British Sociological Association’s annual conference in Leeds, comes in the wake of a recent report by HESA (the Higher Education Statistics Agency), which points out that Black British professors make up just 0.4% of all British professors – 50 out of 14,385.

This is despite the fact that 2.8% of the population of England and Wales is Black African or Black Caribbean, according to the Office for National Statistics. Only 10 of the 50 black British professors are women.

Only the University of Birmingham has more than two black British professors, and six out of 133 have more than two black professors from the UK or abroad. HESA’s research defines black as Black Caribbean or Black African.

Prof Pilkington said: “The more targeted initiatives stemming from the Race Relations (Amendment) Act initially had an impact. Their impact, however, was short-lived, with a deconstruction of the discourses in the official evaluations pointing to significant lacunae. What is more, the pressure is now off.

“Although lip service continues to be paid in government pronouncements and some strategies to race equality and ethnic diversity, a discourse centred on community cohesion has become hegemonic and has marginalised one concerned with race equality and ethnic diversity.

“In the light of this, it is scarcely surprising to discover that black and minority ethnic academic staff continue to experience significant disadvantage in higher education.”

Professor Pilkington also spoke about race equality among students. He said that New Labour’s emphasis on ensuring they were recruited from all areas of society was “primarily concerned with class” and the needs of students from ethnic minorities were only “marginal”. Advisory letters written to the national funding councils by the government never mentioned race or ethnicity.

Most of the money universities received for encouraging ethnic minorities into higher education was spent on getting them to attend universities, but not on helping them succeed while there. This had “adverse consequences for minority ethnic groups who are more likely to gain access to the sector but disproportionately face problems in succeeding,” he said.

Although people from ethnic minorities were well represented in universities, they tended to study less prestigious subjects in lower-status institutions.

“A recent study which examined students’ choices of higher education revealed that ‘while more working class and ethnic minority students are entering university, they are generally entering different universities to their white middle class counterparts’,” he said.

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