'What would make you come to our university?'

March 11, 2005

Southampton is determined to recruit a more diverse staff. Mandy Garner reports

Universities have recently been criticised in The Times Higher (Features, March 4) for failing to do enough to encourage ethnic minorities into higher education. But Southampton University is determined not to fall into that category. Next week, it launches a series of adverts as part of a major consultation exercise aimed at getting input from ethnic minorities on what the university can do to make its policies more inclusive.

The adverts are part of a race equality consultation campaign that began last October and is expected to continue until August 2006. It was prompted by the Race Relations Amendment Act (2000) but, says the university's race equality adviser Eleanor Scerri, it aims to go further than the scope of the legislation. The Act says that universities should ensure all new policies are assessed for their impact on inclusion of ethnic minorities. Southampton also plans to review existing policies in employment, education, marketing, student living, purchasing, research and enterprise and the physical environment.

Scerri says: "As part of our core values of openness and inclusiveness, we want to mainstream equality." The university is also keen to attract "a more diverse community, which is multicultural and international". Adverts will be placed in the university's publications and on posters, flyers will be given out and letters will be sent to voluntary and other groups in the city. "We want people to come forward and tell us what they think," Scerri says.

The campaign breaks down into three parts. First, the university is sifting out the parts of its policies that it believes are "race relevant". In the case of employment, this includes how hourly paid lecturers are recruited.

Is this by word of mouth and does it therefore exclude minority groups? Where does the university advertise posts and how accessible are the ads to minorities? Second, the university will consult people about how its policies might need to change. The last phase involves analysing the information gathered and rewriting policies where relevant.

"It's an ambitious plan," admits Scerri, "but we think it is the right thing to do." The university hopes to follow up with similar exercises on disability and age, also in line with new legislation.

A recent review for the Higher Education Funding Council for England said many universities were making disappointing progress on implementing the Race Relations Amendment Act.

Saheema Rawat, a policy adviser at the Equality Challenge Unit, says she is encouraged by Southampton's "imaginative" approach. "This is an example of the higher education sector taking its responsibilities towards equality of opportunity seriously."

The ECU will shortly be publishing examples of good practice in the area of race.

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