April 17, 2012

Universities’ black and minority ethnic staff still encounter ‘significant disadvantage’

Efforts to promote race equality in higher education have petered out and had "little impact", a conference has heard.

Speaking at the British Sociological Association’s annual conference in Leeds on 13 April, Andrew Pilkington, professor of sociology at University of Northampton, said the impact of initiatives to encourage race equality in academic recruitment under the Labour government had been “short-lived”.

Efforts to ensure gender equality far outweighed those to eliminate racial discrimination, argued Professor Pilkington, whose books include Institutional Racism in the Academy: A Case Study.

Diversity issues had “fallen down the agenda” in the past decade, he added, while the government now paid only “lip service” to race equality matters.

He quoted from a 2003 report carried out by Gus John, visiting professor of education at the University of Strathclyde, which said that “results suggest that many universities were still struggling to come to terms with what the legislation requires and that they remain on a steep learning curve”.

“Evidence [pointed] to failures in data gathering and target setting, [which] suggests that many universities have not taken equal opportunities policies seriously”, he said.

“The changes afoot are much less remarkable than the continuities. The colour-blind initiatives had little impact at all in promoting race equality.”

More targeted initiatives stemming from the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 initially had an impact, but this proved to be short-lived. “What is more, the pressure is now off”, Professor Pilkington added.

Discourse on community cohesion had now become “marginalised to one concerned with race equality and ethnic diversity”, he said.

“In the light of this, it is scarcely surprising to discover that black and minority ethnic academic staff continue to experience significant disadvantage in higher education.”

On participation of black and ethnic minority students, he also noted that they were well represented in universities, but tended to study less “prestigious” subjects in lower-status institutions.


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