#OscarsSoWhite was the hashtag that dominated social media in the run-up to this year’s Hollywood extravaganza – a campaign that highlighted the stark absence of black talent in many categories in the world’s most famous awards ceremony.
The point, of course, was not just about the lack of opportunities for black actors and actresses to win gold statuettes, it was about a lack of opportunities full stop. Those of us working in UK higher education know that the sector here has diversity problems of its own: the lack of opportunity, or barriers to entry and promotion, clearly hinder black and female academics (according to one recent count, of 18,000 or so UK professors, just 85 are black).
This is something that we report on regularly at Times Higher Education, but as we launch our call for entries to this year’s “Oscars of UK higher education” – the THE Awards – it’s another diversity issue that I want to highlight.
Every year, we have entries from well over half of all UK universities in our 19 categories that range from individual awards for teaching and research, to institutional categories honouring the universities that are doing outstanding work in a wide range of areas.
But we’re always aware that both individuals and universities sometimes count themselves out of certain categories, and we want that to stop.
Take the top award of the event: University of the Year. Previous winners have included new universities, older Russell Group institutions, and everything in between. The current holder is Coventry University.
But it’s hugely important to us, particularly for this most prestigious award – the equivalent of Best Film at the Oscars-proper – that those vying for recognition are as diverse and multicultural (in an institutional sense) as possible. Anyone can win, whether your primary mission is teaching and widening participation, or you’re among the world’s top ranked research-intensive universities.
It doesn’t make the job of the judges any easier, of course, when they’re asked to compare the university equivalents of apples with oranges, but our judges themselves hail from, and have worked in, institutions across the glorious spectrum of UK higher education, and it’s a very nice problem to have.
So if you’re reading this and you think your university had an exceptional year in 2014-15, with a great story to tell, then do tell it – or encourage your vice-chancellor to tell it.
The THE Awards are for everyone in UK higher education, from the universities of Cambridge and Oxford to large metropolitans, small specialists and everyone in between. We want the shortlists and winners to reflect the diversity that is one of the great strengths of our university system.
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