UK universities making slow progress on equality, data shows

There were 25 black women and 90 black men among 19,000 professors in 2016-17.

Students wearing mortar boards and gowns
 The data showed a marked closing of the gap in final degree results between white and BME students. Photograph: Chris Radburn/PA

British universities have made little progress in promoting black and other minority ethnic staff to senior positions, according to analysis of equality data.

Statistics collated by Advance HE, formerly known as the Equality Challenge Unit charity, show that last year only a small fraction of professors in UK universities were from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds, with women especially poorly represented.

In the 2016-17 academic year just 25 black women were recorded as working as professors, out of about 19,000 professors in total. More than 14,000 white men were recorded as professors, while just 90 black men held positions of the same status.

The data collected from official sources also showed that BME staff remained more likely than their white peers to be in junior positions, to be less well paid and to be employed on fixed-term rather than permanent contracts.

But the report noted some improvements, including a doubling of the number of BME staff in the course of a decade.

“Over the past 11 years of producing these reports we have seen small but consistent improvements in a number of equality areas, such as gradual reductions in the average gender and ethnicity pay gaps among academic staff and the narrowing of the BME attainment gap,” said Gary Loke, an Advance HE director.

“While this is encouraging, the persistence of these issues and those related to other protected characteristics such as disability, gender reassignment and sexual orientation remind us that there is still a great deal of room for improvement.”

Data on 2017 graduates showed a marked closing of the gap in final degree results between white and BME students. Overall, nearly 80% of white students were awarded a first class or 2:1 degree, compared with more than 66% of BME students. The gap of 13 percentage points was smaller than the 15-point gap seen in the previous year.

Black and minority ethnic students showed a marked preference for studying in London, at more than double the rate of white British students. While just 12% of white British students enrolled in London institutions, 33% of black students, 30% of Asian students and more than 40% of Arab ethnicity students studied in the capital.

BME students were more likely to take professional subjects and avoid courses such as history and philosophy. They comprised about one in three students studying law and business, and they were more likely to take science and technology courses than white students.

The report noted that the proportion of higher education staff disclosing that they had a disability had more than doubled, from 2.2% in 2003-04 to 4.9% in 2016-17.

But disparities in gender, race and ethnicity still loom large in university staff rooms. Only one in four professors were women, and of those nearly 92% were white.

Among all academic staff, a little more than one out of five women earned more than £50,000, compared with more than one in three of their male counterparts.

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First Published 07.09.18:

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