Need for anti-racism strategy in universities, Yorkshire academic says
The number of UK university professors who are black revealed in annual figures, has accentuated concerns that black and minority ethnic staff continue to be under-represented at these senior academic levels.
Professor Vini Lander, from Leeds Beckett University, has called for the review for universities to take steps to address the inequality which exists within higher education by acting on anti-racism strategies.
It comes as only 155 out of more than 23,000 university professors in the UK are black, according to recent annual figures. It remains below one per cent, the same as for the past five years, and is an increase of only 50 posts despite the number of professorships rising by more than 3,000 in that time.
Professor Lander told The Yorkshire Post: “I think it’s shameful because we’ve had race relation laws since the 1960s to eliminate any kind of descrimination.
“There is a structure that impedes people from reaching these higher positions and becoming a professor because of the way in which we are socialised to think they don’t belong in these spaces - but of course they do belong in these spaces."
The annual figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency this week provide a breakdown of the UK’s academic workforce - and show while there has been a focus on widening access for students, there are still few black academic staff.
At the level of professor, the number of black professors rose from 105 to 155 between 2014-15 to 2019-20.
But new higher education providers included in the figures meant an additional 3,200 staff at professor grade, with the proportion of black professors only increasing marginally from 0.5 per cent to 0.7 per cent over five years.
This compared to seven of professors who are Asian and 89 per cent white in the figures for 2019-20.
New analysis by Yorkshire Universities, a group representing 12 institutions in the region, for The Yorkshire Post showed in Yorkshire the total percentage of black academic staff across the region stands at 1.4 per cent, below the national average of 1.9 per cent.
While black students in Yorkshire made up just three per cent of the region’s total student population of 196,000, according to figures from the academic year 2018-19.
Prof Lander, the director of the Centre for Race, Education and Decoloniality, in the Carnegie School of Education at Leeds Beckett University, said UK universities needed to take “active” steps to diversify the workforce.
“Universities need to put processes and procedures behind any statements they make around equality and diversity,” she said.
She added a lack of ambition for black undergraduate students in all stages of their journey is stifling ambitions and aspirations in higher education.
“You can’t be what you can’t see,” she said. “It is about the whole journey, we really need to look at it and say - what positive steps universities can actively take to actually diversify our workforce? And also to ensure we have a pipeline of people with the ambition, with the talent.
“It’s about sending out those positive messages and saying you belong here, this is a space where we would welcome people from diverse backgrounds who have expertise in all fields.”
A spokeswoman from Yorkshire Universities said as part of the actions needed to build a more inclusive staff population, it was “vital” that “collaborative action is driven by strong leadership, all-staff commitment and cultural change,” within institutions.
Universities UK previously said "the evidence is clear that black and minority ethnic staff continue to be under-represented" at these senior academic levels.
"More needs to be done to address this inequality which exists within higher education, which mirrors inequalities evident in wider UK society and which will require an unequivocal commitment to change," said the universities' organisation.
A spokeswoman from the Department of Education said: "Diversity and equality is vital in higher education. Our world-leading universities are an engine of social mobility and provide life-changing opportunities for thousands of students and staff from ethnic minority backgrounds every year.
"The Government has launched the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which is reviewing disparities in outcomes, attainment and employment across a range of communities and organisations."
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