Racial and gender equality still lacking in UK universities, report finds

A report published by the firm Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) has found massive disparities across UK universities in the employment and payment of female and Black or Minority Ethnic Group (BME) staff as well as discrepancies in the acceptance rates of female, BME, and disabled students.

The study, named The Equality in Higher Education Statistical Report 2015, draws attention to some key statistics which demonstrate the pay gaps, population disparities, and negative trends apparent in the higher education sector for minority ethnic groups, females and disabled individuals.

According to the report, female academics are paid an average of £6,146 less per year than their male counterparts, while twice as many male academics earn more than £50,000 a year as do female scholars.

“It is clear that gender issues are still prevalent, and the continuing underrepresentation of women in certain subjects gives cause for concern,” said David Ruebain, CEO of ECU, in a press release.

“We are also continuing to see a significant lack of BME staff in senior positions, and ECU understands how this is a critical issue for many institutions. Our new Race Equality Charter, which piloted earlier this year and which is due to launch in 2016, will play an important part in highlighting how institutions can ensure that a diverse workforce is represented at all levels,” Ruebain continued.

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The report found that 3.2 per cent of academic staff in Scotland belonged to a BME group, the third highest regionally after England and Wales in the UK. This year also saw the highest concentration of BME academics in the lowest contract levels of employment. One of these levels, designated as the level for ‘junior administrative staff, clerical staff, technician/craftsmen and operative staff’ was the highest with 13.9 per cent of those employed at this level of academia belonging to a BME group. The concentration of BME academics dropped as the contract level increased, with less than five per cent employed at the top five levels of employment and zero per cent employed at the ‘head of institution’ level.

In an interview with The Student, Stephanie Neave, Research Manager for ECU, lent some insight into the changes which the higher education sector has experienced over time in terms of diversity. “While the overall BME degree attainment gap is the lowest it has been in the last 10 years, it remains considerable for certain BME groups.” she said. “It is also worth looking at the decline in mature students and underrepresentation of women in STEM subjects such as engineering, technology, and computer science.”

The 2015 report was the first of ECU’s studies to include the analysis of sexual orientation, religion and gender identity. The report also examined the opportunities available in the higher education sector for staff and students with disabilities. “Disability disclosure rates have nearly doubled since 2003/04, from 5.4% in 2003/04 to 10.0% in 2013/14, which is welcome news. However, it remains markedly lower among postgraduates than undergraduates, and in certain subject areas overall, such as business and administrative studies.” Neave told The Student.

The study also looked at the employability of students after university, with statistics showing that 7.6 per cent more white leavers (students after university) than BME leavers were employed within six months. It found that a higher proportion of disabled leavers were unemployed six months after leaving university, and that the unemployment rate was highest among students with social communication or autistic spectrum disorders, with almost a fifth of these students unemployed half a year after graduating with a university degree.

“The aim of the report is to be a comprehensive picture of equality and diversity. I think the take home message is that it is evident that there are key equality issues in the composition, continuation and outcomes for students.” Neave told The Student.

ECU has developed the Athena SWAN award, which is given out yearly for universities which they feel have been doing a great deal to increase gender equality among their students and staff. It is obtained by universities submitting applications which should demonstrate positive motion in their demographics towards gender equality, as well as initiatives which the university partakes in or administers toward the same goal.

The award has recent amendments, according to Gemma Tracey, senior policy advisor for ECU. “We’ve relaunched Athena SWAN so that it goes beyond STEM academics. Institutions will also have to state explicitly what they are doing to tackle any gender pay gap,” she told Times Higher Education.

The University of Edinburgh was the recipient earlier this year of the Athena SWAN Prize for Gender Equality in Higher Education, however only 18 per cent of the Universities’ highest ranked professors are female, and there remains a pay gap of 11 per cent between these most senior female professors.

Female professors in that category get paid on average £12,268 less per year than their male counterparts.

Image: Flickr: byronv2

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