The colours of advancement

January 28, 2000

A landmark trial has thrust race equality onto the education agenda. Helen Hague reports

Asif Qureshi, who won a record payout for racial discrimination from Manchester University two years ago, has finally been appointed professor of international economic law. His promotion at Manchester comes amid growing signs that race equality is now firmly on universities' agenda since the publication of an influential study last year.

As a law lecturer, Qureshi was persistently overlooked for promotion and he fought a seven-year battle for justice. In 1997, a tribunal ordered the university to pay him Pounds 44,880, including Pounds 25,000 for injury to personal feelings. The tribunal said at the time that the university's handling of the dispute was a matter of "sadness and shame". The promotions he should have got at that time - to senior lecturer and reader - were backdated.

The case was viewed as a landmark, sending universities the message that discriminating in promotion on the grounds of race is not acceptable.

Ethnicity and Employment in Higher Education, by Tariq Madood and Steve Fenton of Bristol University, published last summer, highlighted the need for action on ethnic inequality. It was commissioned by leading organisations in higher education and the Commission for Racial Equality.

The report's findings have rippled through the sector. It found that one in four respondents had personally experienced discrimination when applying for academic jobs and 15 per cent in promotion. Ethnic minority academics with nine or more years' experience were half as likely as their white peers to be professors.

The report spelt out an agenda for action including target-setting and monitoring of appointments and promotions. Madood was keen to pay tribute to Qureshi. "He has had a great struggle and been brave and determined in an exceptional way. The fact that he was prepared to go through what he has makes it marginally easier for other people. But, of course, he should not have had to go through it all in the first place."

* The Trades Union Congress this week called for mandatory ethnic monitoring at work to help combat racist attitudes that are holding back increasingly well-qualified black and Asian workers.

There is an "urgent need" to challenge persistently high levels of workplace racism on the grounds of social justice, the TUC argues in Qualifying for Racism, a study based on data from the government's Labour Force survey. It would also be "economically absurd" for employers not to capitalise on the skills of those who are being overlooked.

In 1999, 21 per cent of black and Asian workers were qualified to degree level, compared with 16 per cent of white workers. In management and supervisory grades, the gap between white and ethnic employees has widened, from 4.6 per cent in 1992 to 5.7 per cent last year.

The report highlights the case of an academic with more than 25 years' experience and a professorship from his home university in Africa who believes his career is being held back by racist attitudes.

The professor - a title he is not allowed to use at the UK university where he has taught for the past six years - is an international expert in environmental technology. He has remained at senior lecturer level despite twice applying for promotion and seeing less qualified colleagues promoted above him.

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