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UK Higher Education and the Lack of Ethnic Diversity

Whilst there has been a lot of progress made in gender equality within the workplace, those from ethnic minority backgrounds are still lagging troublingly behind.

Although certain policies have allowed the BAME student population to increase, no such affirmative steps have been taken to address inequality at the staffing level, particularly at senior levels.

For instance, there are only three BME vice-chancellors and 20 UK-born BME deputy or pro vice-chancellors, compared with 530 white ones.

BME staff are half as likely as white staff to hold a top position, with whites holding 15.7% and minorities holding 12.8% of senior roles.

As progressive bastions of society, universities have a responsibility to reflect the communities that they represent, and to give equal opportunity to people from all ethnic and social backgrounds.

Studies indicate that more ethnically diverse leadership teams perform better, and universities operating globally will do much better if they take on people from different backgrounds and upbringing.

Why is it then that folk from ethnic minorities do not seem to make the senior level roles?

There are a few ideas postulated. First is unconscious bias of deciding to pick someone who looks similar to you, and can therefore be more relatable to, as well as a team player. It could also be the fault of BAME people themselves who feel that the position is outside of their reach and that they cannot become part of what they feel to be an exclusive club.

It might also come from the experience of being perceived as an outsider and marginalized, however subtle.

“I don’t say anything anymore as it doesn’t do any good. I just keep quiet and hide in my office.” This sort of comment is made on countless occasions by BME colleagues (in several institutions) who have tried to alert their white colleagues or managers about discrimination or acts of exclusion towards them.

It might be a series of events that leads the person to feel unwanted or unvalued in their role. It could be a political situation such as the Brexit leaving someone from Europe feeling that people want the free movement to end and for them to return home, even if ‘home’ has become the UK.

It could be that someone snidely says something about the ‘foreigner’s’ accent. It could also be that someone asks, even politely, what part of the world the person is from, ingraining the sense of otherness and their inability to ever truly fit in and be an integrated part of the community. 

It is this type of thinking that needs to change if Britain is to be a truly inclusive society and it has to happen from the educational establishment downwards, as this shapes the perspective of another future generation.


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