Only a handful of black academics in most senior positions in British universities, figures reveal

Falling numbers ‘unacceptable’, minister says

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Thursday 23 January 2020 16:34 GMT
The number of black academic staff in top roles has fallen in the past year
The number of black academic staff in top roles has fallen in the past year

Only a handful of academics in the most senior positions in British universities are black, figures reveal.

The number of black academic staff in top roles has fallen in the past year despite repeated pressure to boost diversity on campus, according to data by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa).

Chris Skidmore, universities minister, has called the decline “unacceptable” and has urged vice-chancellors to make sure their university staff truly represent British society.

Between zero and two people from black backgrounds were recorded as working as academic managers, directors and senior officials in 2018-19, compared to between three and seven in 2017-18.

Last year, there were 535 academics working in the top managerial jobs and of these 475 were white.

A total of 15 were recorded as coming from an Asian background, five from a mixed background, and a further five from another background. The ethnicity of the rest was not known.

On the figures, Mr Skidmore said: “It is unacceptable that the number of black academic staff in senior positions has fallen, as this does not represent our British society.

“Universities need to make more progress and I urge all vice-chancellors to address the barriers that are holding back black and ethnic minority staff from senior positions.

“A true representation of Britain at the top levels of our universities will support the progression of black and minority ethnic (Bame) staff, as well as improving students’ experience.”

The figures show overall there were 217,065 academics working at UK universities in 2018-19.

Of those whose ethnicity was known, 83 per cent were white, 10 per cent were Asian and academics from black, mixed and other backgrounds each made up 2 per cent.

The data follows warnings that a pervasive culture of bullying and stereotyping at UK universities has blocked the professorial paths for black female academics.

Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said: “These figures confirm the lack of representation of black and minority ethnic staff at the top table in our universities. It is going to take systematic change and some difficult conversations if we are going to make any headway."

She added: “Universities’ failings on equality when it comes to representation and pay are one of the reasons staff have been forced into strike action recently.

"Universities need to work with us to address the issue and recognise that they will need to transform their practices to implement real change for Bame staff.”

A Universities UK spokesperson said: “Universities have a vital role to promote an inclusive environment in which students and staff of all backgrounds and ethnicities can flourish.

“The evidence is clear that black and minority ethnic staff continue to be underrepresented at academic levels in higher education and it is crucial that the leadership of every university takes steps to identify and address the underlying cultural issues and commit to taking action.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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