Equality body left leaderless

December 8, 2000

A major university initiative to combat discrimination in higher education employment suffered a setback this week when it was left without a head.

The announcement that Phil Barnet, director of policy and communications at the Commission for Racial Equality, had been appointed director of the Equality Challenge Unit - the body charged by education secretary David Blunkett with ensuring that universities deliver on their equal opportunity policies - was thrown into doubt when he announced he would not be taking the post. Mr Barnet declined to comment on his reasons.

This is a blow to the funding councils, Universities UK, the Standing Conference of Principals and trade unions, which are all behind the initiative. Janet Finch was named chair of the joint equality steering group, the policy-making body.

In his annual letter to the funding council last month, Mr Blunkett said: "I am determined that equal opportunities for higher education staff must improve... I look to the unit to ensure that institutions deliver the improvements in monitoring and performance that they have agreed to."

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