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The relevance of the Race Equality Charter

19 Jul 2021 | Advance HE Working with the sector to tackle racism and make higher education inclusive for all students and staff

Advance HE Chief Executive, Alison Johns, said, “Recent events have highlighted the existence and abhorrence of racism in UK society – including, regrettably, in higher education.

"In 2019, the Equality and Human Rights Commission uncovered ‘widespread evidence’ of racial harassment on university campuses. Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data shows Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff face barriers to progression and are underrepresented at senior levels in our universities (only 1% of professors are Black), and our annual Student Academic Experience Survey published with the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) is unequivocal in highlighting that some students do not enjoy the same positive experiences or outcomes of their White peers. Universities UK has also called for “urgent action on racial harassment” in higher education. There is clear evidence of an awarding gap between Black and White students, which the Office for Students has called on universities to tackle. 

"We run the Race Equality Charter on behalf of and for the sector to help them achieve this. It’s a framework through which each participating institution can work to identify and self-reflect on its own institutional and cultural barriers standing in the way of Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff and students. Created with the HE sector in 2015, the REC is a well-established framework through which institutions can develop their own plans to create inclusive teaching and research environments and tackle racism. We support and applaud their efforts to do so.” 

Quotes from sector stakeholders:

Professor Julia Buckingham CBE, President of Universities UK, said: “Racism exists throughout our society and university leaders should acknowledge and reflect on the difficult truth that we have much to do to address the issues of racism and inequality in the higher education sector.  

“Effective and urgent action is needed to prevent and respond to racial harassment and inequality across the higher education sector. It is time to put words into action, and ensure that each and every member of the wider university community takes responsibility for change. We must acknowledge the problem and work to foster a culture that actively opposes harassment and bullying and promotes  inclusion, diversity and well being.  It is our responsibility to do our level best to ensure that every individual in our community is treated with dignity and respect.

“UUK works closely with Advance HE and organisations across higher education to support universities to tackle racial harassment and has published a set of recommendations for universities. UUK has also highlighted the significance of the Race Equality Charter to our members, detailing how this can help their institutions to improve the representation, progression, success and well being of Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff and students.“

Gordon McKenzie, Chief Executive of GuildHE, said, "GuildHE advocates an anti-racist approach and supports Advance HE’s Race Equality Charter as a much needed part of addressing persistent inequalities in UK higher education - evidenced in awarding gaps for students of colour and the barriers to progression and promotion to senior job positions for staff." 

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said, "As a close observer of the higher education sector, I see every day the remaining equality challenges that need addressing and the power of initiatives like the Race Equality Charter to tackle them. 

"Higher education reflects society and, as we have seen in the last few days, we still have a long way to go in rooting out the discrimination that holds people back, that blights our society and which ruins lives."

In a joint statement, Pradeep Passi, Director of EDI, University of Central Lancashire and Professor David Richardson, Vice-Chancellor, University of East Anglia,  Advance HE Race Equality Charter Governance Committee co-Chairs, said, "The REC is a robust framework designed to address racial inequalities that exist across the sector in relation to staff and students. The charter is not in any way prescriptive but does allow universities to identify for themselves any inequalities and the actions they feel appropriate to take to narrow or eliminate those inequalities."

Nona McDuff OBE, Pro Vice-Chancellor Students and Teaching Solent University and Chair of the Higher Education Race Action Group (HERAG), said, “Higher education should be a transformative experience for all students but sadly the data at all stages of the student life cycle suggests this is not the case. We should be able to proudly assert that the UK is a leader in the global higher education space but unless we can demonstrate equality for our staff and students we cannot lay claims to quality. The Race Charter Mark is a systematic process which facilitates institutions to collect, analyse and act on any differentials that threaten the quality of our education. How can this be anything but a good and important process to engage in for both the fee payer and a progressive society?” 

Working with the sector:

Advance HE is a member-led, sector-owned charity that works with institutions to improve higher education for staff, students and society. We support our members and the sector in the areas of teaching and learning, governance, leadership and equality, diversity and inclusion, with a focus on furthering inclusion, dignity and respect. We are funded predominantly through voluntary subscriptions and engagement from our member base, as well as a variety of other sources such as specially commissioned work from some funding bodies.

Support is delivered through professional development programmes and events, Fellowships and professional recognition – there are more than 140,000 teaching and learning Fellows – and student experience surveys (more than 1 million students surveyed in the last 10 years), as well as through membership (including accreditation of teaching and learning, equality charters, research, knowledge and resources).

Part of Advance HE’s work it is to support and empower universities to meet their legal duties to advance equality and address racism, or other inequalities evidenced across higher education, such as gender underrepresentation in senior roles, sexual violence or discrimination faced by disabled staff and students. We work with our sector members to help them meet targets set by the Office for Students (such as addressing the awarding gap between White and Black students). Our work is led by meaningful engagement with universities, and is closely aligned with the sector’s stated aims and ambitions on race equality, including the recent call from Universities UK for “urgent action on racial harassment in higher education” and the joint UUK/NUS report on tackling the awarding gap, #Closethegap.  

A core part of our support to members in addressing racial inequality is the delivery of the Race Equality Charter, with a new sector-led governance committee comprising of leading experts and an emphasis on rigorous and dialogic peer review. It’s a framework through which each participating institution works to identify and critically reflect on its own institutional and cultural barriers standing in the way of Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff and students, whilst enabling people to negotiate difficult issues. The Race Equality Charter’s values are centred on belongingness and dignity, supported by an inclusive curriculum which acknowledges and reflects rich and diverse intellectual and cultural experiences and knowledge. The Race Equality Charter is a critical journey through which institutions utilise their data to develop bold and ambitious plans to address racism and cultivate a more inclusive institution and sector. We support and commend their efforts in working towards equality, diversity and inclusion. 

The evidence of racism in higher education

In 2019, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) uncovered ‘widespread evidence’ of racial harassment on university campuses. The EHRC report ‘Tackling racial harassment: Universities challenged’ revealed that ‘around a quarter of students from an ethnic minority background (24%) said they had experienced racial harassment since starting their course’. Over 50% of the HE staff who responded to the EHRC ‘described incidents of being ignored or excluded because of their race’. Our own evidence, drawn from data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and sector-wide student surveys, shows that Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff continue to face barriers to progression and success in academia, and are underrepresented in the highest levels of our universities. Our evidence also highlights that Black, Asian and minority ethnic students do not enjoy the same learning and social experience or positive outcomes of their White peers. Further collation of key data reflecting racism in higher education are noted across different reports and are presented below: 

Equality in Higher Education - staff statistical report (HESA data): 

  • Among UK staff, Black, Asian and minority ethnic representation at the highest contract level (heads of institutions) remained at 3.1%, compared to 96.9% White.  
  • The proportion of UK White academics that were senior managers (0.9%) was more than double that of UK Black, Asian and minority ethnic academics (0.4%). 

Equality in Higher Education - student statistical report (HESA data): 

  • Overall, 81.4% of White students received a first/2:1 compared with 68.0% of Black, Asian and minority ethnic students (a gap of 13.3%) students. 
  • The awarding gap was particularly pronounced for Black African (23.3 percentage points), Black Caribbean (19.2 percentage points) and other Black students (24.4 percentage points).  
  • The overall awarding gap and the White-Black gap have each on average changed by only 0.3 percentage points from 2003-04 and 2018-19. At this pace, it will be 2070-71 when the overall awarding gap will close, and 2085-86 when the White-Black awarding gap closes. 

Advance HE/HEPI Student experience survey:  

  • Black, Asian and minority ethnic students are still much less likely to feel they have learnt a lot, received good value, or that the experience exceeded their expectations. 
  • Only 48% of Black, Asian and minority ethnic students said they would choose the same course and university again, compared to 62% of White students. 
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