Last week, I attended the London book launch of ‘Dismantling Race in Higher Education: Racism, Whiteness and Decolonising the Academy’ for which I wrote the final chapter. In that chapter I note that many of my fellow contributors to the book mention the Advance HE Race Equality Charter, and I reflect that the Charter is a useful tool to drive action on addressing inequality. It is remarkable that I first drafted that chapter in late 2016, the year the Race Equality Charter was launched. Three years on and there are 52 member institutions of the Charter. This is a promising indication that the higher education sector is recognising the importance of addressing race equality.
However, while we may celebrate this increased attention, we should not rest on our laurels. It has been a little over 53 years since the first piece of anti-discrimination legislation, the Race Relations Act, was enacted in 1965 - should society in fact be much further along the journey on achieving race equality?
In 2015, Baroness Amos expressed her surprise at being the first black female head of a university and it continues to be true that there are only a handful of black and ethnic minority (BME) university leaders in the sector. In our 2018 equality statistical report we highlight some stark disparities: 0.6% of UK national staff are black and the attainment gap between white and black students qualifying with a First/2:1 degree is 24%.
Against that background, and with the steady increase in the number of UK-domiciled BME students in higher education (in 2016/17, 419,105 UK domiciled students identified as BME, representing a 60.0% increase from 2003/04 numbers), it is not surprising that students are increasingly questioning why their academic staff and leaders don’t look like them and why course content is not reflective of them. BME students are increasingly vocal about the lack of diversity in their faculty and in the curriculum - indeed decolonising learning is one of the 10 trends that the OU predict will influence teaching in the coming years. Addressing the persistent differential degree attainment remains a key focus of our work at Advance HE, for example, through our collaborative project ‘Equality Diversity and Inclusion in the curriculum’.
In my book chapter, I argue that we need to address the individual, the systems and the knowledge (both in research and curriculum), usefully learning from Schiebinger (Has Feminism Changed Science?). It was therefore timely to reflect on this at the book launch and consider how Advance HE’s work addresses these three areas. Our work not only focusses on the curriculum but also on individual staff development through programmes like our diversifying leadership programme and leading race equality in HE, and on institutional and systems change through the Race Equality Charter.
The book launch was emotional event with a number of chapter contributors recounting personal experiences or racialisation, and being at the event served as a powerful reminder to me as to why Advance HE continues to prioritise work on advancing race equality.
Much progress has been made, but more needs to be done, and we need to work together as a sector to ensure that our progress is accelerated. We hope you can join us at our BME Leadership in Higher Education Summit in May 2019 to discuss, debate and progress race equality.