Ethnic minorities are slowly beginning to claw their way into the upper echelons of academia despite still being underrepresented in senior ranks.
Figures compiled by the Association of University Teachers for The Times Higher show that in the past eight years the percentage of ethnic minorities in professorial and principal lecturer positions has increased from 3 to 5 per cent.
Stephen Court, senior researcher at the AUT, said: "The figures show some improvement in the employment of ethnic minorities to the top jobs in universities. However, it is important to remember that the proportion of senior academics in UK higher education who are from black and ethnic minority groups is much lower than the proportion of minority postgraduates in the UK working-age population."
In old universities, the percentage of ethnic minority professors increased from 3 to 4 per cent between 1995-96 and 2003-04. In new universities the percentage of principal lecturers increased from 4 to 5 per cent.
The figures show that the biggest gain in participation was in universities that broke away from the national grading structure for academics to use locally determined pay scales. In these universities, representation of ethnic minorities among the professoriat doubled, with the percentage going from 3 to 6 per cent.
The figures are drawn from university returns to the Higher Education Statistics Agency and based on job categories in the old national grading structure.
Natfhe welcomed the improvements, but Roger Kline, head of the universities department at the lecturers' union, said that progress was still far too slow.