Minorities must not be ignored

June 13, 1997

MINORITIES must not be sidelined in the changes sweeping higher education, equality chiefs have warned.

A guide for universities to be published next week, recommends that "equality should be embedded in the practices and operations of higher education institutions. Equality should not be an afterthought or an 'add-on', otherwise real changes cannot be achieved".

The guide calls for specific performance indicators showing how far universities and colleges support equal treatment of staff and students. Institutions should have a written equal opportunities policy, endorsed by senior management and with enough resources to support training and advice.

Produced jointly by the Equal Opportunities Commission, Commission for Racial Equality and Commission on University Career Opportunity, the guide comes as new research reveals university life is very different for minority groups and traditional students.

A study by the University of Warwick's Institute of Employment Research for the Higher Education Funding Council for England shows that while non-traditional students are becoming more common, they remain rare in more prestigious institutions.

Older and poorer students, those from ethnic minorities and disabled students are more likely to study part-time and attend new universities. They will also earn less than white, able-bodied graduates when they leave.

While all students moaned about lack of money, non-traditional groups were much more likely to say part-time work was essential during their course. Terence Hogarth, senior research fellow at the institute, said: "This is a key finding given the debate about how higher education should be funded in future."

At first glance, ethnic minorities may appear to be well represented at 13.5 per cent of new students - nearly twice as many as the proportion in the general population. Asians are now more likely to go to university in the UK than either whites or blacks.

However, they are not equally spread. Representation among black Caribbean men and Bangladeshi and Pakistani women remains poor, while 60 per cent of all ethnic minorities are at new universities.

Efforts to encourage a more diverse student population seem to have paid off best among older age groups. Men and women over 60 are now more likely to go to university than any group except under-25s.

Whatever their different experiences, all groups are united in their support of university. Mr Hogarth said: "Despite the fact that students' expectations weren't always satisfied or they had financial problems while at university, about 90 per cent said that given their time again they would do the same."

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