Lack of awareness ‘major barrier’ to improving campus diversity

Study from European University Association also finds that few universities have targets to improve the ethnic and socio-economic diversity of staff

November 20, 2019
Source: Alamy

A lack of awareness of diversity issues within European universities is one of the main obstacles to promoting equity and inclusion, according to a new report.

A survey by the European University Association of 159 institutions from 36 systems found that a lack of funding and other resources (66 per cent) was the main barrier to improving diversity, closely followed by a lack of awareness of the issue within the university (65 per cent).

Just over a third of universities (34 per cent) said that the lack of a strategic approach to the topic used to be a challenge but had been solved, while 29 per cent of institutions said this was still a barrier.

Meanwhile, 41 per cent of institutions indicated that a lack of qualified staff was a barrier and 35 per cent cited additional resources as a success factor in improving diversity, according to the study, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in European Higher Education Institutions, published on 20 November.

Thomas Jørgensen, senior policy coordinator at the EUA and co-author of the report, attributed the lack of awareness of the issue to the rapid increase in the size and diversity of student populations on campuses in the past decade and said that universities should continue to have a “central leadership-driven agenda” on diversity.

“It’s very good to have different projects, but you need to connect the dots and do this in a sustained way so it’s really ingrained in the culture of the institution,” he said.

The research also found that the majority of universities (57 per cent) used quantitative targets to help improve gender equality among academics (dropping to 32 per cent among professional services staff), but just 2 per cent of institutions had targets in relation to the socio-economic background of staff. Meanwhile, less than one in 10 had targets relating to the ethnic and cultural background of scholars (9 per cent) or professional staff (5 per cent).

While the majority of universities collected data on the gender and age of staff and students, far fewer reported collecting figures on other areas related to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Just 7 per cent of institutions collected data on the socio-economic background of their academic staff (compared with 8 per cent for professional services staff and 35 per cent for students), while 19 per cent gathered numbers on their ethnic and cultural background (18 per cent for professional staff and 28 per cent for students).

The study comes after a report from the European Commission claimed that student ethnicity and class data were “hardly monitored” in Europe, making it impossible to tell whether widening access measures were working.

But Dr Jørgensen said that while the UK and the Republic of Ireland made significant use of data and benchmarking, many institutions in other countries took different approaches, either because of legal obstacles or because they “don’t want to label people like that”.

“It could be that what you focus on is not to count and benchmark but to say ‘we want to have structures that are fair and equitable’. We haven’t seen that one way of doing things is more efficient than the other,” he said.

The EUA survey also found that 68 per cent of institutions offered training to academics on inclusive teaching methods and tools. One in three universities provided anti-bias training to staff while about two-fifths delivered training on intercultural communication.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Lack of awareness ‘major barrier’ to campus equity

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Reader's comments (3)

Will the public reputation of academic institutions will suffer if "diversity" ranks along side scholarship as a criterion? What happens if there is a conflict between them?
And what happens if there is a conflict between scholarship and basic human decency?
Focussing on people's gender, ethnicity or 'socio-economic background' only serves to INCREASE the divisive nature of labelling them as belonging to one group or another, and doesn't promote an inclusive meritoracy at all. I've removed/refused to supply information about gender or ethnicity from my staff record. As for 'socio-economic background' I don't even know what that means, and as a 60yo I have probably outgrown any background influences and am standing on my own feet by now!

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