Latest statistics fuel call for race targets for academic jobs

June 18, 1999

How many v-cs are black?

When the Macpherson report on the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence was published earlier this year, it warned that people are held back in British society not only as a result of explicit discrimination, but also because of "institutionalised racism" - informal processes based on unconscious assumptions and stereotypes of ethnic minorities.

Macpherson made it "incumbent on every institution to examine its policies and practices to guard against disadvantaging any section of our communities".

While students from ethnic minority groups are entering universities in ever-increasing numbers, in some cases outstripping their white peers in educational attainment, the position with regard to staff lags far behind. Levels of discrimination in British universities reported to us are higher than the national average.

The data reveals that academics from ethnic minorities are far less likely than their white counterparts to secure permanent jobs. In 1996-97 nearly half of British ethnic minorities were on short fixed-term contracts, compared with a third of their white peers. They are less likely, too, to be professors. Minorities who have worked in the academic labour force for nine or more years are only half as likely to have been awarded a chair as whites of the same length of service. While the nationwide data on employment in universities show these broad patterns of disadvantage, in our survey many ethnic minority academics said they had suffered unfavourable treatment.

More than one in four ethnic minority respondents said that they had experienced discrimination while applying for jobs; 15 per cent said the same about promotion and nearly one in five had had to put up with racial harassment from staff or students.

These figures can be broken down further. Chinese, "Asian other" (mainly Southeast Asians) and Africans are over-represented in universities and colleges compared with their representation in the population as a whole. Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, black Caribbeans and "black others" (mainly British-born of Caribbean descent) are half as likely or less to be in higher education jobs.

So what can be done? Well, we suggest that achieving equality for black people should be given the same priority as has been given to ensuring that women are not disadvantaged in academic careers. Targets should be set, with timetables, to make real improvements in the number and proportion of ethnic minorities at professorial and managerial levels. Likewise, targets are needed to boost recruitment of ethnic minority academics generally. Racial equality policies should be developed to cover the contract status of staff and to put in place career development plans for those on short-term contracts.

Statistics need to be collected annually and set against benchmarks (see box right) to ensure a steady improvement. And staff should be trained to recognise how unconscious negative stereotyping can bias appointment decisions.

Many ethnic minority staff became academics in the 1980s, when conditions of work and pay plummeted. Cuts in public funding have held down pay, held back promotions and concentrated new jobs in the cheapest universities. This has been a recipe for frustration. Our research suggests that for ethnic minority staff this frustration has often become racialised.

Ethnic inequality will continue until universities explicitly address it. It is true that growing numbers of ethnic minorities are entering academia, but increasingly, the posts on offer are disproportionately insecure and low-paid. Casualisation may be exacerbating racism - and ethnic minorities may end up gaining a prize just as it is losing its lustre.

We suggest that every university ask the following five benchmark questions every year and that those with responsibility for higher education should monitor the answers to measure whether progress in achieving racial equality is being made.n Is there an improvement inthe position ofunder-represented groups such as Bangladeshis,Pakistanis and Caribbeans?n Is the disproportionate concentration of ethnic minorities and overseas nationals in fixed-term contract posts declining?n Is the higher representation of ethnic minorities in the younger age bands flowing through into more senior posts?n Is the multi-ethnic character of British students reflected in the ethnic composition of their teachers?n Are more ethnic minority staff being made professors?

Tariq Modood, professor of sociology, politics and public policy, University of Bristol, and Dr Steve Fenton, senior lecturer in sociology, University of Bristol

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