Vigorous response needed on equality

December 3, 1999

Universities must set an example in ending discrimination against black and ethnic minorities, delegates heard at a conference called to check on progress since the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, writes Harriet Swain.

Reporting after the inquiry, Sir William Macpherson urged every institution to examine its policies and practice with a view to eliminating "institutional racism".

Pressure is mounting on universities to act because of the need to widen participation. The issue has been emphasised by the Bett report, which highlighted discrimination against women.

Working groups have been established to look at gender discrimination as part of the 1999 pay settlement. But many black and ethnic minority academics feel the needs of other minorities must be addressed too.

Michael Driscoll, vice-chancellor of Middlesex University, told the conference:

"Before the Stephen Lawrence case, people assumed race was no longer a problem. But it has raised concerns that we need to look below the surface. Universities are no different."

Many universities have excellent equal opportunities policies but difficulty in ensuring they are translated into practice. A recent seminar for black and ethnic minority staff heard that many still experience discrimination.

A study published last week by Patrick Leman of Goldsmiths College, London, found the number of black applicants accepted by Cambridge University had doubled between 1997 and 1998. Oxford University has seen a similar rise. But the proportion of black Cambridge students achieving first class or 2:1 degrees remains well below average.

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