No black academics in top British university roles for third successive year

David Lammy MP blasts ‘shocking’ statistics as experts say lack of diversity mirrors problems in other sectors

New data has shown there are no black academics in senior management positions, such as directors, managers and senior officials, in any British universities for the third consecutive year.

Records published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) revealed that of the 535 senior officials who declared their ethnicity, 510 were white, 15 were Asian and 10 were recorded as ‘other, including mixed’.

Between 2012 and 2013, HESA recorded that there were five black members of staff in the most senior category, but the precise figure may have been between three and seven because of the agency’s policy of rounding figures.

The statistics, which cover staff at 163 of the UK’s state-funded higher education institutions and the privately funded Buckingham University, showed that universities employed 3,205 black people as academics.

Some 1,805 black members of staff were found to be in secretarial roles, and a further 1,410 in ‘elementary occupations’ such as cleaners, porters and security guards. In contrast, there are around 158,000 white staff in academic posts and fewer than 70,000 performing clerical or manual labour.

Sandra Kerr, race equality director at Business in the Community, said that collecting this type of data is the first of several steps employers need to take to improve diversity. “It’s one thing to collect data, but it is another thing to analyse and use it,” she said. “These universities need to look at whether they are getting job applications from diverse candidates in the first place, and then how far black professionals, for example, are getting into the recruitment process. We need to find out why this is happening and create goals and targets to improve it.”

Kerr said the lack of diversity shown in the university sector mirrored progression problems for black in employees in other industries and sectors. “This is linked to the appraisal process and lack of progression that our research shows ethnic minority employees experience,” she said. “Employers need to consider who they identify as ‘high potential’ within their workforce, and who is getting the opportunities to progress. There’s absolutely an element of unconscious bias here, and organisations need to represent the community they are situated in so empathy is created between people and different perspectives and approaches are offered.”

David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham and a former higher education minister, told the Guardian: “This is absolutely shocking. I am appalled that higher education is so deeply unrepresentative of the country. The complete lack of diversity in senior positions sends out an absolutely dreadful message to young people from ethnic minorities who find themselves wondering whether university is for them.”

HESA noted that 30 senior academics either refused or failed to record an ethnicity at all. Kerr attributed this to employees’ fears about negative repercussions. “Communicating what happens to data is vital, as is making employees aware of why it is being collected in the first place, because this breaks down the negative assumptions staff may have,” she said.

Women also made up less than a quarter of the 20,000 professors currently working in UK higher education. However, this does represent an improvement on previous years. Women made up 45 per cent of academic staff and just under half (48 per cent) of the overall workforce, with around two-thirds employed on part-time contracts.

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