Luton leads the field in diversity on campus

July 15, 2005

Almost one in five academics at Luton University is from an ethnic minority - almost twice the proportion of the academic sector average, a university internal report has revealed.

Higher numbers of ethnic minority academic staff have helped to boost the recruitment of non-white students and academics in subjects such as media studies and computing, according to Les Ebdon, Luton's vice-chancellor.

He said: "Cultural diversity is a great stimulus to the arts and especially the media, where we have a national reputation. Computing is another strong area, where we have a particularly diverse staff. It's a real global activity, so we attract academics from all over the world."

Professor Ebdon added: "This year, we aimed for a 2 per cent increase in the recruitment of staff from ethnic minority groups - and achieved it. But we will continue our efforts to lead the field in equality and diversity issues. This is part of what it means to be an opportunity university."

The figures, published this week by Luton's human resources department, show the percentage of academic staff from ethnic minority backgrounds to be 19 per cent. The average across all universities is 10.5 per cent, according to the latest statistics compiled by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

Women make up 40 per cent of academic staff at Luton, higher than the sector average of 35 per cent. Luton employs 350 academic staff in total.

Last week, Teesside and Birmingham universities emerged among the top ten most improved public institutions for race equality and ethnic diversity in a national benchmarking exercise.

But the Commission for Racial Equality is concerned that old universities are not doing as well as new universities in efforts to ensure that ethnic minorities are well represented on campus.

The make-up of Luton's student body mirrors that of its academic staff.

More than a third of undergraduates are from ethnic minority backgrounds and a quarter are from overseas. Many students are drawn from the local borough, where more than a hundred languages are spoken.

Luton Borough Council, which in recent years has had to face rising tensions between white and Asian communities, said: "We are pleased that university staff so well reflect Luton's vibrant multi-cultural community."

But the Association of University Teachers cautioned that universities could not afford to be complacent.

Jonathan Whitehead, head of parliamentary and public affairs, said: "It is really important that the academic workforce is drawn from all groups in our society. Where universities still have a long way to go is in making sure that black and minority ethnic staff are not discriminated against compared with their white colleagues."

Patricia Murchie, director of communications and marketing at Luton, said the university did not prioritise ethnic minority staff in interviews, but had succeeded in attracting greater numbers of applications from ethnic minorities.

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