Call to tackle lack of BME scholars in senior roles

Paper addresses ‘stark under-representation’ of black and minority ethnic staff in university senior management

June 18, 2015
Man's hand drawing on blackboard

A new paper aims to address “the stark under-representation of staff from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds at senior management levels” in British universities.

How Can We Make Not Break Black and Minority Ethnic Leaders in Higher Education? by Gurnam Singh and Josephine Kwhali – respectively principal lecturer and senior lecturer in social work at Coventry University – is published by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.

It is designed, says Dr Kwhali, as “a stimulus report” and “to incite to action particularly those power-brokers who may display the biggest blind spots”.

The authors survey the facts about BME staffing levels and the experiences of BME staff.

They explore possible lessons from the United States, with its “106 historically black colleges and universities”, traditions of “black leadership programmes” and “celebration of black achievement in higher education”, while warning of the dangers of black academics being “held back because of moral obligations they feel towards writing about subjects of race and injustice”.

And they urge universities to think critically about “generic and largely meaningless ethnic monitoring categories” and “not to rely on simply counting numbers of BME staff”.

After noting that “the ideal of treating everyone the same [within universities] does little to change inequalities in the system or achieve equality of outcomes”, the authors conclude with a number of “possible actions for [higher education institutions]”. They can, for example, publish statistics on the breakdown of staff according to ethnicity, nationality and gender; “develop proactive recruitment and selection strategies that actively seek to increase the numbers of BME applicants”; “review BME participation in research assessment exercises”; and introduce or improve mentoring services often through partnership arrangements with other institutions.

Although there is a place for black studies and black leadership development programmes, universities should remember that “the success of these initiatives will be dependent on there being no need for them in the longer term”, the paper says.

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