Most Scottish further education colleges have weaknesses in promoting racial equality, and a significant minority have no explicit strategies for tackling racism, according to a report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education.
HM senior chief inspector Douglas Osler has called for "firm commitment and urgent action" to improve awareness of racism and promote cultural diversity.
The HMIE investigation, carried out on behalf of the Scottish Further Education Funding Council, found that three-quarters of colleges did not have adequate equality policies for staff and student recruitment and teaching materials. Forty per cent had no data on the ethnic composition of their catchment area, 20 per cent did not analyse their student population and 22 per cent did not analyse their staffing by ethnic origin.
Only about 0.5 per cent of staff were from ethnic minorities, compared with between 1.3 per cent and 3.9 per cent in the general population, the report found.
Monitoring student and staff patterns against colleges' catchment areas should reveal patterns of inequality and help to identify and eliminate barriers to education and work, the report says.
It warns that policies to promote equal opportunities must be brought into the mainstream of college strategic plans. But the report praises good practice in a number of colleges, including providing prayer rooms, waiving fees for asylum-seekers and providing interpreters in class.
The report also recommends that college principals or senior external board members chairing the equal opportunities committee highlight the importance of its work, and that senior managers attend racial equality council annual meetings to demonstrate college commitment.
Bob Kay, chairman of the Association of Scottish Colleges, said: "The ASC takes this very seriously and welcomes the inspiring case studies highlighted in the report. We fully support the encouragement of the sector through the promotion of best practice."
* Scotland's solicitor general, Neil Davidson QC, this week spoke to students at Heriot-Watt University in the first of a series of higher education visits aimed at encouraging ethnic minority students to take a second degree in law.
The move follows claims of institutional racism in the Crown Office and procurator fiscal service in their handling of the murder case of Surjit Singh Chhokar.
The visit was arranged by Heriot-Watt professor Geoff Palmer who is honorary president of the Edinburgh and Lothian racial equality council. He said: "Mr Davidson is genuine and serious in his intentions to ensure that the prosecution service reflects the ethnicity of the community."
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