Ask the panel

October 12, 2007

Worried about your employment, maternity, pension rights? Send your questions to The Times Higher advice panel.

'Part of my university's mission statement includes the need to "promote equality, diversity and inclusion", which is also referred to in its race equality policy. However, the policy is significantly out of date. I am concerned because there is a common perception of a "culture" at the university that prevents ethnic minority staff from progressing, which could affect me. Where can I go for further advice?'

- A spokesperson for the Equality Challenge Unit says: "It is good that the university has included equality, diversity and inclusion as part of its mission statement, but it is also very important that this is reflected in an up-to-date race equality policy.

"The presence of a race equality policy is important in helping the university understand how it will promote race equality as part of the General Duty in the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 (the RRAA). The aim of this General Duty is for universities to put race equality at the heart of every aspect of its work. Equally important to the university are the specific duties that underpin the General Duty. Although these are also legal requirements, these specific duties are not a means to an end but rather a way of helping the university meet the General Duty.

"One of the specific duties accompanying the RRAA is the requirement for all universities to prepare and maintain a written statement of the institution's race equality policy. It is therefore not enough for a university to have a race equality policy in place, it is also necessary for that policy to be kept up to date and to contain evidence on how policy will be maintained in the future.

"Universities also have specific duties to monitor, by racial group, the recruitment and career development of its staff and assess the effects of its policies on staff from different racial groups.

"A monitoring exercise of the career development of staff would allow a university to identify differences in representation between staff from different racial groups. If there are differences the university would be able to consider setting appropriate targets to ensure that a person's racial origin does not hinder career progression. Equally (and as noted in ECU's publication Conducting Impact Assessments in Higher Education ), involvement and consultation with staff as part of an impact assessment exercise on the relevant policy regarding career progression would allow the university to look into the reasons for any differences and identify causal factors behind low levels of representation, along with the appropriate action the university should undertake.

"In addition, the university should provide training for all staff on how to put the policy into practice, ensuring that they understand their responsibilities and rights. This can go some way towards ensuring that staff feel that discrimination will not be tolerated.

"It appears that you are concerned that there may be a culture that could affect your career progression. Initially you should consider contacting the university's equality adviser (or equivalent) for further advice on what the university is doing to keep the race equality policy up to date and how you can be made further aware of its progress.

"If you have individual concerns as to career progression you should also consider speaking with the human resources department, the equality adviser or your trade union representative, explaining your concerns and asking for their views on how the matter can be progressed."

- Gill Evans, project leader of the Higher Education Funding Council for England-funded Dispute Resolution Project ( www.staffs.ac.uk ), says: "A good place to start is by looking up the Active Risk Management in Higher Education (Armed) guidance at http:///armed.ilrt.bris.ac.uk/ . That should help you to make a list of points where your existing procedures need to be revised. You should encourage the institution to check regularly whether its procedures need to be updated or revised and to make sure that the new procedures are properly approved and then put on the website.

- This advice panel includes the University and College Union, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, the Equality Challenge Unit and the Higher Education Funding Council for England-funded Dispute Resolution Project. Send questions to advicepanel@thes.co.uk

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