Monitoring your institutional equality data and comparing it against other universities and colleges can help your institution identify areas of underrepresentation or disadvantage and plan actions.
Benchmarking data allows institutions to see how their data compares to the sector or to another relevant group. It can drive aspirations, measure progress, provide a target for actions, and allow institutions to consider common issues.
Advance HE encourages an aspirational approach to benchmarking. You might compare your institution against the sector and see that it is doing ‘better’ in terms of representation of disadvantaged groups in some respects, but if the benchmark itself is very low, or if your own figures have not changed much over time, this may not signify that disadvantages have been mitigated or that progress has been made. That said, institutions and departments which exceed benchmarking data, may have practice in place which other institutions might wish to emulate.
The main focus of benchmarking should be in using the data to drive the institution’s aspirations. Be ambitious in the benchmark chosen, and use the benchmark to challenge your institution to make significant improvements, as well as to measure progress and celebrate successes.
What to benchmark
Monitoring and benchmarking data can enable your institution to assess whether staff and students with particular characteristics are disproportionately represented or underrepresented in key areas of the higher education life cycle, for example:
- Numbers of staff within protected characteristic categories
- Numbers of applicants for posts, and numbers shortlisted for posts within protected characteristic categories
- Numbers of staff within protected characteristic categories recruited
- Staff contracts (temporary, permanent, fixed-term, casual and hourly-paid contracts) within protected characteristic categories
- Positions of responsibility held, such as committee chairs, in relation to promotion rates
- Numbers of staff within protected characteristic categories completing training and professional development
- Pay grades of staff within protected characteristic categories
- Length of service of staff within protected characteristic categories
- Sickness/absence rates
- Instances of bullying, harassment, complaints and grievances; disciplinary action taken
- Numbers of students within protected characteristic categories
- Student admissions process (applications/offers made/acceptances)
- Numbers of students within protected characteristic categories in different subject areas (final enrolment rates)
- Numbers of students in different study levels and modes (postgraduate/undergraduate, part-time or full-time) within protected characteristic categories
- Positions of responsibility held, such as course representatives, students’ union positions
- Numbers of students within protected characteristic categories engaged in extra-curricular opportunities, such as clubs and societies, mentoring schemes
- Attainment of qualifications within protected characteristic categories
- Withdrawals/retention rates within protected characteristic categories
- Student leavers data – first destinations of graduates/qualifiers
- Instances of bullying, harassment, complaints and grievances; disciplinary action taken; academic appeals
Advance HE produces annual equality statistical reports for higher education across the UK and students in colleges in Scotland.
- Equality in higher education: statistical reports present staff and student data by all equality categories, and intersectionality
- Equality in colleges in Scotland: statistical report presents student data for colleges in Scotland to provide an equality-focused analysis of student participation, completion and success
The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) collects annual data on equality characteristics for staff and students in UK higher education institutions.
Subscribing institutions can access HESA data through Heidi Plus. The database allows users to drill down data in many ways, including by protected characteristic. Users can also view their own institutional data and compare these to other institutions.
If your institution already has a subscription, it will have a designated local administrator who can advise on access to the database. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details of your local administrator.
Benchmarking need not stop at sector wide statistics. Particularly if your institution appears to do well against sector benchmarks, you can use other resources to find aspirational benchmarks to work towards. You could use the Heidi Plus system to create benchmarks that are particularly relevant to your institution, e.g. other institutions in your nation/region, or in your mission group.
In terms of representation, statistics outside of the higher education sector, capturing demographics in your local area, region, nation, and UK wide are also useful benchmarks. It’s important to consider benchmarking to where your staff or student recruitment primarily lies. For example, if your institution tends to recruit students UK wide and wishes to set a target for increasing the representation of BME students, you may wish to consider the proportion of the UK population within age groups matching those of your students which is BME. Statistics from the Office of National Statistics covering local area, region, nation, and UK demographics are available for free from Nomis.