Race discrimination in universities still a problem, reports survey

Nearly 60 per cent of black and minority ethnic higher education staff and students questioned for a survey feel they have been discriminated against

April 6, 2014

According to the Race Equality Survey, undertaken by the group Black British Academics, 56 per cent reported discrimination, while almost three quarters (73 per cent) said they would rate their institutions’ performance on race equality as “poor” or “very poor”. 

Many of the 100 respondents criticised institutions’ recruitment and promotion practices, with comments complaining of “closed doors”, “differential treatment” and being “cold shouldered”.

“You are not taken as seriously and it is as if you have to do more/owe more in order to receive the same as a white British individual,” says one respondent.

“In an employment capacity, I and other members of staff of colour are often the last to hear about departmental developments,” another claims. “Information is passed along informally to others beforehand.”

The report states that although positive action on recruitment is an option under equalities legislation, there is little evidence of its use across the higher education sector. A 2013 poll by the same organisation found that 77 per cent of respondents favoured positive action targeted at the most under-represented ethnic groups.

Other respondents complained of overtly racist behaviour by their colleagues.

“Black staff are treated with contempt and disgust and career progression is almost non-existent among our demographic,” reads one comment, while another lists some of the “numerous situations” in which they have encountered racism in academia.

They include “negative stereotypes of what to expect of black people (jokes about mugging, rioting, capacity to understand complex ideas, ability to develop creative ideas)” and “constantly being challenged by students and staff who have low expectations with regards to receiving a high level of education from a black female”.

At a recent public talk at University College London, titled “Why Isn’t My Professor Black?”, black scholars claimed that insidious forms of racism may explain why just 85 of the UK’s 18,500 professors are black, and only 17 are black women.

“Our survey shows that black and minority ethnic staff are frustrated by racial inequalities that block their path to senior positions and feel positive action is the most effective strategy to address their under-representation and low progression to senior levels,” said author of the report, Deborah Gabriel, who is also the founder and chief executive of Black British Academics.

Of the 100 respondents to the survey, 91 worked or studied at UK higher education institutions, with the remaining 9 working in related areas including schools and the early learning sector.


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