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Let’s use this data for action!

25 Sep 2019 | Dr Kevin Guyan As Advance HE publishes its 2019 staff and student statistical reports, Dr Kevin Guyan, Head of Knowledge and Research at Advance HE, argues that the use of data to diagnose a problem is only the first step in addressing its causes.

The launch of Advance HE’s annual staff and student statistical reports  reminds us of the progress yet to be made to address inequalities in the UK’s higher education (HE) sector.

The 2019 reports present data on staff and student identity characteristics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) for the 2017/18 academic year. The reports identify some positive trends, such as the continued increase in the proportion of female professors, rising from 24.6% in 2016/17 to 25.5% in 2017/18, and decrease in the attainment gap between White and Black first-degree undergraduate qualifiers with a First/2:1 degree, falling from 24.1 to 23.4 percentage points. However, even when the direction of change is positive, the pace of progress remains slow.

This is the 12th year that Advance HE, formerly the Equality Challenge Unit, has published analysis of diversity in the HE sector. The two reports present a snapshot of the age, disability, ethnicity and gender of staff and students, as well how these identities intersect. The reports also present data on the institutional collection and return rates for data on gender reassignment, religion and belief, and sexual orientation.

We now know that problems exist and, as presented across hundreds of tables in two reports, possess a solid evidence base to demonstrate this case. It is therefore vital that we view these reports as a call to action rather than simply an illustration of where we are in 2019.

Advance HE presents this data as one element of a bigger project, rather than as an output in itself, and responds to the challenges identified in the reports through our accreditation programmes (Athena SWAN and the Race Equality Charter), equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) training and bespoke research solutions.

Intersectional data and increased disclosure

Importantly, this year’s reports continue to expand our publication of intersectional data. For example, we know that 4.9% of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff domiciled in the UK disclosed a disability, compared to 1.7% of non-UK BAME staff.

Also, as the quality of data returned to HESA on religion and belief, sexual orientation and gender reassignment continues to improve, Advance HE can conduct more detailed analyses. For example, it became mandatory for higher education institutions to return student data on religion and belief for the first time in 2017/18. This means that quality of student data presented on religion and belief presented in our 2019 report has greatly improved, with data returned for 92.3% of all students in HE – an increase of 30.5 percentage points from 2016/17 (61.8%).

Alongside changing requirements from HESA, there also exists a greater willingness among staff and students to disclose data on their identity characteristics. The development of inclusive questions, trust in the systems used to collect this data and efforts by practitioners working in data and EDI have helped convey the importance of this information for work in the sector.

A resource for subscribing institutions

Advance HE members can download the reports as PDFs, Excel data tables and a suite of infographics that highlight key findings from the 2019 reports. These resources provide researchers and practitioners with an evidence base to benchmark issues within their institution against national contexts. Knowledge of the EDI challenges that an institution wishes to address will help ensure that any initiatives implemented (such as a mentorship scheme or subject-specific support) are appropriate for the context, rather than fashionable or unnecessary.

Director of Knowledge, Innovation and Delivery, Gary Loke, notes:

“There is a great deal of work, determination and indeed success across the sector in promoting EDI, though the data in these reports shows we still have a long way to go. It’s vital that we use this evidence about staff and student identity characteristics to help inform change and to advance the progress in making our sector representative and inclusive.

“Advance HE is absolutely committed to supporting the sector to achieve this, not just through our Charters and other EDI initiatives, but through our whole body of work, including leadership, governance and teaching and learning.”

Advance HE intends to build on findings presented in these reports and produce further detailed data briefings on student religion and belief and the diversity of HE governors. These briefings will support members to identify potential challenges related to religion and belief that face students and provide vital insights into the diversity profile of those involved in HE governance.

An awareness of the EDI challenges that face the HE sector is the first step in the development of effective initiatives. Advance HE can provide the data to help diagnose the issues, it is then all of our responsibility to ensure we use these insights to improve EDI across the UK’s HE sector.


Find out more about Advance HE’s Bespoke Equality Research


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