Charter flight to equality

April 18, 2013

Despite the diligent work of many higher education institutions and sector organisations, including the Equality Challenge Unit, systemic discrimination on the grounds of race persists in the academy (“Race discrimination in academia ‘has not improved’ over past 20 years”, News, 11 April).

Overall, the numbers of black and minority ethnic staff in senior management or professorial roles remain disproportionately small. The experiences of discrimination and exclusionary practice reported in the study by the University of Southampton’s Kalwant Bhopal are echoed by our own research. We have worked with many institutions on initiatives to promote race equality, but this is a complex and sometimes sensitive issue requiring a strategic approach. It is clear to us that cultural and systemic changes are necessary if we are to make headway in this area.

The Equality Challenge Unit is developing and trialling a race equality “charter mark”, which is intended to instigate long-term changes to tackle race discrimination. Initially aimed at improving equality for staff and concentrating on career progression at the senior level, the charter mark will also relate to pipeline issues. The Athena SWAN charter (improving gender equality in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects) has shown that such schemes can have a significant impact on entrenched exclusionary practices and can change behaviour within institutions.

In acknowledgement of the fact that the challenges posed by gender and race inequality are different, the proposed charter mark will begin as a small-scale trial and will grow incrementally. It will be developed in consultation with the sector and will be flexible in order to take into account institutional contexts (size, location and so on).

There is a long way to go, but the goal is clear. There is no room for discrimination in UK higher education: it must make tangible changes or risk losing its reputation as a global leader.

David Ruebain
Chief executive
Equality Challenge Unit

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