Gross discrimination deserves the spotlight

April 7, 2000

The THES's league tables for female and ethnic minority professors, and next week's table for other senior staff, caused consternation even before publication. There has been log-rolling and even threats of litigation all week as institutions that show poorly have tried to improve their position.

We, and the Higher Education Statistics Agency that supplies the data, recognise the flaws. The ethnic data rely on staff self-assigning themselves to racial groups. The gender tables are complicated by inconsistent recording across institutions. However, we make no apology for publishing. Universities have been shown up by the Bett report as grossly discriminatory employers. Government and funding councils are now intent on setting targets for improvement - action that has been shown in the civil service to produce rapid improvement.

Suppressing this data because of its imperfections would be the easy option. So would insisting on long consultation like that which characterised the old Universities Statistical Record, whose flawless data emerged so late as to be useless.

Improving it may turn the spotlight unambiguously on employment practices, but it is what should be done. Hiding an ugly truth behind historical anomalies arising from the old binary divide is a cop-out. Institutions should agree a uniform reporting system with Hesa before penalties hit those who fail to meet targets - however they are measured.

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