Race equality watchdogs have urged universities and colleges to move faster on opening employment opportunities so that Britain could have its first black vice-chancellor within five years.
The Commission on Racial Equality said this week it was "regrettable" that higher education has been so slow to gather and act on race equality information, which shows that ethnic minority staff have fewer promotion opportunities and worse employment conditions than their white peers.
It said institutions and higher education agencies must do more to monitor race equality annually and provide data compiled in a form that can be used to draw "useful comparisons".
The plea came as the CRE joined vice-chancellors, college principals, union leaders, employers and the Commission on University Career Opportunity in launching a joint approach to racial equality.
At a meeting held to respond to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry report, the parties agreed to take action through CUCO and employer-union working groups on casualisation, equal opportunities and ethnicity.
The meeting agreed that institutions should be encouraged to:
Organise round-table discussions on equal opportunities
Use recommendations in recent reports as benchmarks for "ethnic audits"
Press for "real cultural change" as well as formal equal opportunities policies.
Diana Warwick, chief executive of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, said: "This is vital work, not just for the individuals who may benefit directly from better practices, but for the institutions as a whole and the broader economy that will enjoy the benefit of an inclusive and more equitable society."
But Joe Charlesworth, the CRE's acting head of public sector policy, said there had been impatience over the slow progress on racial equality in higher education and there was still "quite some way to go". He said he hoped it would be no longer than five years before Britain got its first black vice-chancellor.
A report published last month by the Policy Studies Institute showed that of academics with nine or more years of service, 16 per cent of white staff have become professors, compared with 9 per cent of ethnic minority staff.
Nearly half of non-white British academic staff were on fixed-term contracts, compared with 34 per cent of their white counterparts.
Mr Charlesworth said: "It is regrettable that so many institutions have to admit that they have not based any policy decisions on the results of their monitoring in the area of ethnicity. That is a sad state of affairs."
He said this was partly because there were big gaps in data gathered and information compiled by agencies was not presented in a useful form.
"We feel that the CVCP and the Standing Conference of Principals should have this on the agenda every year. Institutions need to have a set of indicators they can use to benchmark their position against other institutions in a suitable way, so that we can see some progress," he said.