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Taking a stand

09 Feb 2022 | Sanchia Alasia Sanchia Alasia is joint programme director on Diversifying Leadership, our dedicated programme to help tackle the under-representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic leaders in UK higher education. In this blog she explores the commitment to race equality in higher education and the role universities can play in breaking down systemic racism.

The events of the past few years, with the pandemic having a disproportionate impact on Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and the murder of George Floyd by American police officer Derek Chauvin, have proved another turning point across the world for race relations. Many universities have had listening exercises and deep reflection on how they can use these conversations to take real action. The call for action is not a new one, but there has been a shift in the momentum to make real sustainable change in our universities, particularly around closing the ethnicity pay gap and the racial awarding gaps for students.

There has also been increased impetus to decolonise and make the curricula that we teach in our universities more inclusive. Statues have been taken down and debates have ensued about how society manages these statues and symbols of colonialism and imperialism going forward.

The UK’s colonial past permeates our nation today and universities are not exempt. This can be seen as at odds with the mission statements of most universities – which are generally to use the power of education to transform lives, communities, businesses and society. It would be amiss for us not to acknowledge, however, that racist prejudices, opinions and actions which are not in keeping with society's commitment to equality for all, either then or now are a systemic part of our institutions today. As universities, we have a role in acknowledging and highlighting the dark parts of our past to reflect and build a better future. To achieve this, we will need to continually hear from the lived experiences of our staff and students, work together to identify the barriers and take proactive steps to dismantle them.

The reality is that the lived experiences of Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff and students in our universities today show that there is still much to do to tackle systemic racism. There is an overwhelming amount of data from external reports over the years – including the Lammy Report, Angiolini Review, or the Parker Review, which outline the inequalities that have now resulted in how Black, Asian and minority ethnic people are being disproportionately affected in society and which this pandemic and the murder of George Floyd have put a spotlight on. Not just with the higher death rate, but they have also been more likely to lose their jobs and are finding it harder to gain re-employment. 

Black, Asian and minority ethnic people have to apply for 60% more job roles to get a positive response. UK Black professional representation has been stagnant since 2014, with just 1.5% in leadership positions. Reportedly, on average Black people are paid 23% less than their White counterparts. The ethnicity pay gap remains, and, currently, it is not a legal requirement for employers to collate ethnicity data despite prominent members of the community pushing for it a few years ago. Black women are four times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth. This information has been known for many years, but no concrete action plans have yet been put in place to address this. The list goes on, but despite this, Black, Asian and minority ethnic people keep going.

Many universities for the most part have recognised that they need to do more to make their institutions a welcoming and inclusive place for their staff and students; alongside supporting the advancement of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people within. Advance HE’s Diversifying Leadership programme supports early-career academics and professional services staff from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds to progress in leadership roles. By working with the participants to explore themes of power and influence, demystifying leadership and cultural identity; by providing a safe space to learn from others and set fresh personal challenges, participants will have some tools to navigate their career aspirations through their institution. Institutions must play their part too by not just sending participants on the programme, but by working to make real sustainable change in eliminating institutional racism.

Frameworks like the Race Equality Charter (REC) can help institutions identify where the pinch points are and what specific actions they will need to take to tackle them. By examining specific measures that they can take to recruit, retain, promote and support Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff and students, they ensure that when participants have completed the programme, they not only see but really feel their commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion.

Our universities must have a strong and enduring commitment to race equality and recognise the role they can play in dismantling the forces that perpetuate structural inequality and racial prejudice.


Sanchia Alasia, Acting Group Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at London South Bank University, is a new joint programme director on Diversifying Leadership, our dedicated programme to help tackle the under-representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic leaders in UK higher education.

The next cohort of the Diversifying Leadership programme is now open for bookings. DL16 starts on 23 March 2022. Find out more 


We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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