Taking “unconscious racism tests”, providing scholarships aimed at ethnic minorities and targets to make staff more diverse are just some of the measures universities are taking to tackle racial inequality.
As thousands of teenagers who received their A-Level results last week prepare for higher education, institutions are improving their strategies to clamp down on racial barriers some may face.
Eight universities recently became the first recipients of a new higher education racial equality charter mark award.
The initiative recognises “excellence in advancing racial equality in higher education” and challenges universities to come up with ways to improve this and help students and staff from BAME backgrounds reach their full potential.
The charter was launched by the Equality Challenge Unit at the start of this academic year.
Out of 30 institutions who began this journey, only 21 completed it. Out of these, only eight have received the Bronze Award, which recognises the quality of the work undertaken and the robustness of action plans.
Min Rodriguez, head of equality at the University of Hertfordshire, one of the institutions to win the award, said she was “delighted” for being recognised in taking steps towards achieving race equality.
“Taking part in the charter mark has been incredibly valuable to us as it has allowed us to identify good practice and also highlighted where we need to do more,” she told Eastern Eye.
Regular workshops and seminars on equality were carried out by the university, Rodriguez said. She revealed that almost half their students come from a black or minority ethnic backgrounds.
“People probably don’t expect Hertfordshire to have a diverse student group.”
They have also rolled out “unconscious racism training” across the institution where staff and students do an implicit bias test, which is web-based.
“That’s available to all staff and we’ve invited students to do it. It’s a preference test. From what is shown on the screen, participants are asked to press one picture or the other. It covers not just ethnicity, but gender, sexual orientation and other things. People say it identified things they never knew they had inside them.”
The University of Manchester was another institution which received the racial equality award. Around 19 per cent of their academic and research staff and 10 per cent of their professional support services staff are from a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background.
The university says 17 per cent of the students are made up of British BAME students and over a quarter of their students are from overseas.
A University of Manchester spokesman said: “Whilst these figures compare well with the national picture, we recognise the sector as a whole needs to do more to increase the number of BAME staff, particularly at senior levels as well as research intensive universities attracting more BAME students.
“To support this, a key performance indicator on ethnicity has been included in the university’s strategy, with specific targets to increase the proportion of BAME staff at all levels so they are representative of national and local populations.
“To help achieve this goal, the university works in partnership with the wider community through our two dedicated race centres, the Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) and the Race Relations Resource Centre.
“This strong and meaningful engagement with the external organisations, alongside the internal activities of (and consultation with) our BAME staff network group, has led to advancements and recognition for our diverse community.”
De Montfort University (DUM) in Leicester, which was also awarded, has a BAME student population of 41 per cent. Head of equality and diversity, Christine Nightingale told Eastern Eye the assessment by the Racial Equality Charter was “was exacting and demanding”.
“We are not perfect, we didn’t think we were. Completing the assessment led us to think hard about the patterns we were seeing and impacts our ways of working we are having on our staff of all ethnic groups and from UK and international nationalities.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation & Skill said it was “committed” to widening access to higher education.
“Anyone who has the ability to succeed should have the opportunity to participate, regardless of their ethnic background. We welcome these awards which highlight excellence in advancing equality and diversity in high-er education.
“Our focus on One Nation means ensuring everyone in our country can reach their full potential and it is encouraging that UCAS data from last year shows that entry rates for ethnic minorities have increased,” the spokesperson added.