Equality will lead to a wider talent pool for society

December 15, 2000

To judge from the bold slogans of employers advertising for staff in this newspaper, equality of opportunity has arrived or is being striven for in a vast range of British universities. But our analysis shows that non-white staff are far more likely to suffer from low pay, low status and low security. And new research for the Hansard Society suggests that it is not defective mechanisms but sheer lack of will that has held back the promotion of more women to top jobs.

In a fortnight, the first century in which women have had any hope of career advancement in Britain comes to an end. For ethnic minorities, the timescale is more like a decade. Although both groups have seen significant progress, they seem on present trends to be destined to be significant minorities in top posts rather than routinely becoming heads of institutions, both in higher education and elsewhere.

One reason this matters is that although women now make up the majority of students, ethnic minorities continue to be under-represented. And academics start out as students. So groups under-represented among the student body are likely to produce few academics to inspire future applicants.

Sir Howard Newby, president of Universities UK, has pointed out repeatedly that British higher education is fighting a world battle for students and for funding. In this context, it makes no sense to leave talent under-used.

As the letters opposite point out, many women get a foot on the academic ladder, but too few climb it very far. A central body overseeing guidelines and frameworks - as proposed by UUK - cannot control the fact that bodies with good documents fail to deliver good outcomes. The government has noted higher education's slow progress to date. The sector will be providing it with another cause for financial and political intervention unless it shows results rather than targets some time soon.

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