Hefce falls short on staff diversity

The funding council admits it is missing its targets on ethnicity, gender and disability. John Gill reports.

January 31, 2008

As the steward of an annual £7 billion universities budget, the Higher Education Funding Council for England has a clear mission to promote diversity in higher education.

But now the council is being forced to address equality issues in its own ranks. Following an internal review, the funding council has acknowledged that the lack of diversity in its workforce is a "cause for concern".

According to Hefce's own data, 93.5 per cent of its employees are white British, 2.7 per cent white non-British, and just 3.8 per cent are of another ethnicity.

In Bristol, where Hefce is based, the proportion of people of working age who are members of an ethnic minority is 7.7 per cent. The council's target is to match or improve on its employment statistics for 2004, when 4.8 per cent of staff were from ethnic minority groups.

An even greater mismatch exists between the proportion of disabled staff employed by Hefce - 1.2 per cent - and the 19 per cent within the local working population, which the council is aiming to match.

In a recently published report, Hefce says: "Obviously this data gives us cause for concern in terms of the diversity of our workforce. We are considering the positive actions we should take as a result."

Hefce has a high-profile role in promoting diversity within universities. When it launched its race equality scheme in 2002, Hefce said: "We need to ensure that we and all higher education institutions act positively to promote race equality."

And when, more recently, it investigated research assessment exercise selections, it concluded that there was a "highly visible" imbalance between men and women, and it also raised concerns about differences between ethnic groups.

Offering guidance to universities, it said: "Hefce has an ongoing programme giving general support to higher education institutions' equal opportunities policies."

The latest data shows that 78 per cent of Hefce employees in lower pay grades are women, compared with a 50 per cent target. In upper bands, 42 per cent of employees are women, and the target is 45 per cent.

The Hefce report acknowledges that it may be under-recording the numbers of staff in some minority groups, particularly in terms of disability, where the legal definitions have broadened over time.

The report also highlights a staff turnover rate of 11.7 per cent in 2006-07, which is higher than the average for government services of 9.3 per cent.

Hefce's report also details the results of a staff survey, which found that 86 per cent were "proud" to be associated with Hefce, but less than half - 49 per cent - were satisfied with their pay.

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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