The trial will involve a race charter mark designed by the Equality Challenge Unit to tackle inequalities in higher education.
The charter could be open to all universities by 2015 if the trial is successful.
Institutions taking part must work to improve the representation, progression and success of minority ethnic staff and students, and submit an action plan for future progress.
The scheme is similar to the ECU’s successful Athena Swan Charter for Women in Science.
The 30 universities that have signed up include Russell Group institutions such as the University of Exeter and the University of Oxford, smaller research intensives such as the University of Reading and the University of St Andrews, and post-1992 institutions such as Coventry University, De Montfort University and Staffordshire University.
Claire Herbert, senior policy adviser at the ECU, said: “We all know that there continue to be racial inequalities in higher education…. Participation in the charter mark involves being brave enough to reflect honestly on areas where more work is needed.”
She added: “It is inspiring to see these institutions step up to the challenge and show how much they value equality for all their staff and students.”
The views of minority ethnic staff and students collected during the trial will be incorporated into the final charter. Any awards of the charter mark as part of the trial are expected in spring 2015.
A recent report on diversity in higher education by the Campaign for Science and Engineering suggested that black academics account for only 0.2 per cent of professors and 0.4 per cent of researchers. This is despite making up around 3 per cent of the population at large.
Speaking about the initiative, Sarah Main, CaSE director, said: “Unfortunately the data suggest that racial inequality in higher education isn’t yet an issue consigned to the past.”
She added: “I am delighted to see the number and range of universities showing their commitment to asking the difficult questions and honestly looking at how they can address racial inequality within their institutions.”
The ECU is also working to develop a gender equality mark for the social sciences, arts and humanities.