Tie funding to tackling racial inequality, says professor

Uptake of Race Equality Charter in UK higher education ‘hugely disappointing’, says Kalwant Bhopal

March 22, 2018
Tie ropes

Universities should lose funding if they fail to tackle the under-representation of ethnic minorities in senior roles, a leading academic has argued.

Kalwant Bhopal, professor of education and social justice at the University of Birmingham, said that current UK-based initiatives such as the Equality Challenge Unit’s Race Equality Charter lacked impact.

To succeed, the charter – which promotes ethnic diversity in higher education – should be linked to funding, she told an event organised by the Higher Education Policy Institute and the Higher Education Academy.

It was “hugely disappointing” that only 21 institutions had applied for the charter mark, and that just nine had achieved it, Professor Bhopal said.

“Universities should explain how they have addressed issues of inequality,” Professor Bhopal said. “And if they haven’t done that, they should not be allowed to receive funding.”

Professor Bhopal said that the success of linking charters to funding was proved when the National Institute for Health Research linked medical research funding to achieving a silver Athena SWAN award, which was established by the ECU to advance the careers of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects.

“When this was announced, the number of applications for the Athena SWAN award increased by 400 per cent within that same week,” Professor Bhopal said. “So money doesn’t talk – money screams.”

Nevertheless, Professor Bhopal argued, the main beneficiaries of initiatives launched as a result of the Athena SWAN scheme had been white, middle-class women, as opposed to those from ethnic minorities.

ECU research released last year found that UK higher education was becoming more ethnically diverse, but that ethnic minority staff were less likely than their white colleagues to be on permanent contracts, in senior positions, or on higher salary bands.

Professor Bhopal suggested the use of quotas to ensure that ethnic minority staff were represented in senior roles, and she also advocated the introduction of mandatory unconscious bias training in all universities.

Ethnic minority academics should also be provided with support such as networking, mentoring and training to allow them to make the most of career opportunities, she said.

Addressing the question posed in the seminar’s title, “Do universities reflect society enough?”, Professor Bhopal concluded: “Higher education institutions do not represent the communities that we serve. A failure to acknowledge racism and a failure to acknowledge white privilege results in a failure to act.”  

sophie.inge@timeshighereducation.com

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