Two universities are among the top ten most improved public institutions for race equality and ethnic diversity in a UK-wide equal opportunities benchmarking exercise.
Teesside University ranked seventh and Birmingham University tenth in the league table compiled by Race for Opportunity, an independent organisation that annually assesses the performance of 180 public and private institutions on their race-equality policies for staff and students.
On a less positive note, however, the Commission for Racial Equality reports that higher education as a whole still lags behind other parts of the public and private sectors in introducing and acting on race-equality policies.
A survey conducted by the CRE, working in collaboration with the Equality Challenge Unit, found "general weaknesses" in the way many universities approached race-equality issues and a "lack of knowledge" on how to deal with such issues.
Nick Johnson, director of policy and public sector at the CRE, told The Times Higher that while some institutions were clearly making progress, the sector's overall performance remained patchy. "There is anecdotal evidence that some institutions do not even have equality schemes, and those that do are not necessarily implementing them fully."
The CRE is concerned about a continuing disparity between old and new universities in their efforts to ensure that employees and students from ethnic groups receive equal opportunities and are well represented on campus.
Mr Johnson said the traditional profile of the workforce and student body in most old universities, together with their typical out-of-town campus locations, added to an impression that they were not reaching out to local ethnic communities.
Sandra Kerr, director of Race for Opportunity, said that the fact that universities were beginning to feature in its top ten tables - Middlesex University made the top ten last year - suggested that higher education was waking up to the importance of institution-wide race-equality policies.
She said: "Making progress in this area is all about getting leadership from the top, devising an action plan that more than one person is committed to."
Ms Kerr acknowledged that, in addition to Teesside and Birmingham, only five higher education institutions - Middlesex, the University of Central England, Liverpool Hope University College, the University of the West of England and Warwick University - had made the commitment to work with Race for Opportunity.