A report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) said university research grants should be conditional on tackling racial inequality.
Despite being launched three years ago, only one third of universities have applied for an award from the Race Equality Charter (REC). The report said more needs to be done to encourage institutions to engage with the work of the charter, including potentially withholding valuable research grants.
One contributor to the report – Kalwant Bhopal, professor of education and social justice at the University of Birmingham – said this inaction demonstrates race “has always been seen as a secondary priority” for higher education.
All universities – not just a third as now – should apply for awards with the Race Equality Charter
– Huge Dale-Rivas, Hepi
The collection of essays, ‘The white elephant in the room: ideas for reducing racial inequalities in higher education’, includes research and opinion pieces from leading experts in HE.
Last year’s figures show that 81% of white students graduated with a first-class or 2:1 degree, compared to 57% of black students.
The report’s editor, Hugo Dale-Rivas, said: “Racial inequality is in danger of being an accepted fact in higher education.
“All universities – not just a third as now – should apply for awards with the Race Equality Charter.”
The Race Equality Charter (REC) was established in 2016, but has been overshadowed by gender equality work, the report’s research finds.
Universities can apply for a REC award which provides a framework for universities to address racial inequalities. The REC covers professional and support staff, academic staff, student progression and attainment, and diversity of the curriculum.
Advance HE, which manages the REC, expects institutions to start at Bronze level and progress to Silver as they improve racial equality.
When race is introduced, so too is a weariness with the equalities agenda
–Prof Bhopal, University of Birmingham
In her chapter, ‘Addressing competing inequalities in higher education’, Prof Bhopal wrote: “When race is introduced, so too is a weariness with the equalities agenda, an economising logic for diversity work, and justifications for inequalities more universal or more deserving than those of race.”
Bhopal says gender inequality has been more successfully challenged because the British Medical Research Council made research grants conditional on institutions holding a Silver or Gold Athena SWAN award, which incentivised universities to engage with the project.
A Freedom of Information (FoI) request to UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) revealed that between 2016 to 2019, just 1.2% PhD funded studentships were awarded to black or black mixed students.
A University and College Union (UCU) survey found that 90% of black and minority ethnic (BME) staff in colleges and universities report having faced barriers to promotion, and many black staff in universities face a culture of bullying and stereotyping.
In her contribution, Prof Shân Wareing, deputy vice-chancellor at London South Bank University, argued universities should stop using acronyms which “crudely” define people. “Minority in black and minority ethnic (BME), or black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) is numerically wrong; it captures, and linguistically preserves, differential privilege,” she contends.
Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students, welcomed the report. “We have set an ambitious goal to remove the gap that cannot be explained by subject or entry qualifications within the next five years. This is a realistic goal if universities and other higher education providers take the urgent action that is needed to understand and address the barriers to success,” he said.