Racism persists in UK higher education and the Race Equality Charter is a “well-established framework” for universities to tackle the problem, the head of Advance HE has said – amid calls from MPs to cut state funding to the equality opportunities organisation.
In a statement published Monday 19 July, Advance HE chief executive Alison Johns responded to calls from more than a dozen Tory backbenchers to defund the organisation she heads because it promotes “highly contentious racial theories”.
“We run the Race Equality Charter on behalf of and for the sector to help them achieve this,” said Johns. “It’s a framework through which each participating institution can work to identify and self-reflect on its own institutional and cultural barriers standing in the way of Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff and students.
“Created with the HE sector in 2015, the REC is a well-established framework through which institutions can develop their own plans to create inclusive teaching and research environments and tackle racism. We support and applaud their efforts to do so.”
Advance HE manages the Race Equality Charter, developed by its antecedent Equality Challenge Unit from 2010, “through which institutions can develop their own plans to create inclusive teaching and research environments and tackle racism”, Johns said.
Earlier this week, The Telegraph published details of a letter from the Common Sense Group of Conservative MPs to the education secretary Gavin Williamson arguing the REC “directly contradicts Government policy” on freedom of speech.
The group of 15 MPs argues Advance HE is “promoting highly contentious racial theories in our higher education institutions”, including “practices of the kind” condemned by the highly controversial government-commissioned Sewell Report. The MPs said the REC aims “are often counterproductive to societal harmony, leading to division and strife”.
The Common Sense Group counts Sir John Hayes and Sir Edward Leigh and several members of the 2019 Tory intake, including education select committee member Tom Hunt, as members.
The Telegraph published details of Advance HE funding – including £11 million of taxpayer funding since 2016, according to records obtained from Companies House, and £27 million from university membership fees.
The letter concludes: “In light of this evidence – completely at odds with this Government’s policy and its advisors’ conclusions – we request that you urgently investigate the role and work of Advance HE and suspend its funding until an investigation is complete.”
Higher education reflects society and, as we have seen in the last few days, we still have a long way to go in rooting out the discrimination that holds people back, that blights our society and which ruins lives
– Nick Hillman, Hepi
Johns cited evidence of racism in HE in her statement. Only 1% of professors are Black, and among UK staff, Black, Asian, and minority ethnic representation at the highest contract level is just 3.1%. Eighty-one per cent of white students receive a first or a 2:1 degree, compared to 68% of Black, Asian and minority ethnic students. The awarding gap is widest between White and Black African (23.3 percentage points), Black Caribbean (19.2 percentage points) and other Black students (24.4 percentage points).
The statement from Advance HE includes quotes from Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), and Prof Julia Buckingham, president of Universities UK (UUK).
“As a close observer of the higher education sector, I see every day the remaining equality challenges that need addressing and the power of initiatives like the Race Equality Charter to tackle them,” said Hillman. “Higher education reflects society and, as we have seen in the last few days, we still have a long way to go in rooting out the discrimination that holds people back, that blights our society and which ruins lives.”
Prof Buckingham said: “Racism exists throughout our society and university leaders should acknowledge and reflect on the difficult truth that we have much to do to address the issues of racism and inequality in the higher education sector.
“Effective and urgent action is needed to prevent and respond to racial harassment and inequality across the higher education sector. It is time to put words into action and ensure that each and every member of the wider university community take responsibility for change. We must acknowledge the problem and work to foster a culture that actively opposes harassment and bullying and promotes inclusion, diversity and well being.”
Related news: Growth in HEIs signing up to the Race Equality Charter