Better than cure

June 6, 2013

Regarding “Race discrimination in academia ‘has not improved’ over past 20 years” (News, 11 April). Despite the many steps taken to promote equality and diversity in the sector, no major improvements have been achieved. Discrimination in general and racism in ­particular continue to tarnish the reputation of British universities at home and abroad.

Why is it that despite fairly comprehensive laws there are still so many unsettling stories of discrimination in the academy? After all, the ­equality reports of institutions contain long lists of figures that demonstrate numerically their compliance with the equality duty. The discrepancy appears to originate in a loophole in the Equality Act 2010: public bodies are required to publish data indicating their compliance with the duty, but not ­information showing failures to comply.

As there are no standard formats or templates, university equality and diversity reports are ­difficult to compare and analyse, and institutions do not have to send copies to the Home Office or the Equality and Human Rights Commission. No central database exists that collects and analyses the data in the reports, which are usually published online (making them “easily accessible”, at least), and there are no measures in place to verify their accuracy.

To allow accurate comparisons to be made, equality reports should include information about failures to comply with the equality duty and the steps that will be taken to rectify them. The EHRC should closely monitor how public bodies in general and higher education ones in particular are progressing in this regard. Another useful approach would be to examine randomly a number of reports, verify their validity and visit the institutions involved to check and interview staff and students.

The news headlines show that a reliance on self-monitoring and self-reporting is not yielding the expected results: more forceful, prescriptive and interventionist methods are required to ensure that the objectives of the ­Equality Act are fully met.

For example, standardised forms/templates should be used by all public bodies to facilitate comparison and further analysis of the data. This monitoring should be aided by a publicly accessible central database containing all annually published equality reports.

Awards could be handed out to honour those public bodies that have demonstrated outstanding leadership in the promotion and implementation of equality and diversity. And a rating system would help students, their families, job applicants and others to compare institutions’ commitments to these issues more easily, helping them to make more informed decisions.

We must never accept discrimination and racism. Robust preventive ­measures would tackle the problem head-on: after all, prevention is always better than cure.

Morteza Alamolhoda
Aston University

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