Universities are under mounting political pressure to tackle racism, yet vice-chancellors are failing to appreciate this, according to David Triesman, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers.
Mr Triesman, speaking at AUT Scotland's annual council meeting at Strathclyde University, praised education secretary David Blunkett for condemning higher education discrimination as "deplorable".
But he claimed that during discussions in the wake of the Bett committee on pay and conditions, a representative of the vice-
chancellors had said any targets for boosting staff from under-
represented groups would have to be "pitched very low" so that they would not be seen to fail.
Only a few vice-chancellors had grasped that discrimination was not only ethically intolerable, but that the whole political apparatus was determined that it would change, Mr Triesman said.
One of those who has is Colin Bell, vice-chancellor of the University of Bradford, who will tell the Association of University Administrators next week that the government should set aside cash for an action plan on racism in universities and colleges.
AUTS council members unanimously called on the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals to work with the unions to ensure proper procedures were in place to redress discrimination.
The AUTS is also set to lobby enterprise and lifelong learning minister Henry McLeish and the Scottish Parliament's enterprise and lifelong learning committee to investigate institutions' progress in improving job security. The union said fixed-term contracts are "an unacceptable form of indirect sex and race discrimination", since they are more likely to be offered to women and ethnic minorities.
Professor Bell, who will be a key speaker at the AUA conference in Nottingham, said: "I would like the funding councils to fund institutions to produce an action plan to identify appropriate targets for women and for staff from the ethnic minorities, and to meet those targets. It is really very, very hard to tackle [racism] in a cold climate, faced with cuts."
A recent survey of 500 ethnic minority staff found a pay gap of 8 per cent between white male economists and their ethnic minority counterparts - on top of the gap between the sexes.
"We see this as part of a general problem where, due to financial constraints, universities are not following best employment practice," said Jeff Frank of Royal Holloway College, London, who conducted the survey with David Blackaby of the University of Wales, Swansea.
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