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HEPI publishes ideas for reducing racial inequality in higher education

  • 19 September 2019
  • By Hugo Dale-Rivas

The Higher Education Policy Institute (www.hepi.ac.uk) is today publishing a collection of essays by senior higher education figures entitled The white elephant in the room: ideas for reducing racial inequality in higher education.

The authors are: Baroness Amos, Director of SOAS, University of London; Professor Kalwant Bhopal, Professor of Education and Social Justice, University of Birmingham and author of White Privilege: the myth of a post racial society; Professor Shân Wareing, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, London South Bank University; Srabrani Sen OBE, founder and CEO of Full Colour; Amatey Doku, former Vice President of Higher Education at the National Union of Students; and Professor Margo Finn, President of the Royal Historical Society.

The report makes a number of policy recommendations, including:

  • making research grants to universities conditional on their participation in the Race Equality Charter;
  • funding new PhD places for black and ethnic minority (BME) candidates; and
  • recognising and rewarding informal work by BME staff, such as mentoring BME students.

Hugo Dale-Rivas, Policy Officer at HEPI, who edited the collection, said:

‘Racial inequality is in danger of being an accepted fact in higher education. It is too easy for people to shrug and treat it like someone else’s problem.

The report shows many things we need to do. For instance, all universities – not just a third as now – should apply for awards with the Race Equality Charter.

Change needs to come from all areas, from vice-chancellors and senior management but also from academic departments and to affect everything a university does, right down to the interactions between colleagues and the way we talk about race.

In the Foreword to the collection, Baroness Amos, writes:

Universities are as much about delivering equality as they are about excellent scholarship and knowledge transfer. They are places where opportunity and aspiration come together.

There are no easy routes to success. As university leaders we have a responsibility to make change happen and it needs to start now.

Kalwant Bhopal, Professor of Education and Social Justice, University of Birmingham said:

Work on gender is seen as worthwhile and contributing to an equalities agenda. Race, on the other hand has always been seen as a secondary priority. If higher education is serious about social justice, then race equality must be seen as a priority – linking the Race Equality Charter to research funding would be a good start.

Professor Shân Wareing, in her chapter said:

In a room of people talking about race, there will be people confused about which words are okay and which are not. And there will be people in the room who will not join in the conversation, for fear of appearing racist, of being called racist, and perhaps of finding out when it comes down to it, they are racist.

Amatey Doku, former Vice President for Higher Education at the National Union of Students, said:

Universities are under more pressure than ever to address the 14% attainment gap between BME and white students.

Some universities are responding positively, but end up putting a disproportionate burden on BME staff and students. Ultimately it is the institutions themselves that need to fix the problem.”

Margot Finn, President of the Royal Historical Society, concludes:

A third of black and minority ethnic historians have faced discrimination or abuse – twice as many as for white historians.

That tends to shock white historians, but it has never surprised BME historians with whom that I’ve shared our findings.

Notes for Editors

HEPI Report 120 The white elephant in the room: ideas for reducing racial inequality in higher education is available here.

For further information, please contact Hugo Dale-Rivas, HEPI Policy Officer, email: h.dalerivas@hepi.ac.uk mobile: 07901 910115

The Higher Education Policy Institute was established in 2002 to shape the higher education policy debate through evidence. It is the United Kingdom’s only independent think tank devoted to higher education. HEPI is a non-partisan charity funded in part by organisations and universities that wish to see a vibrant higher education debate.

2 comments

  1. John bird says:

    Well, nothing has changed! Way back in the late 1990’s I published a book (Black Students in Higher Education – rhetorics of Access, realities of exclusion)….now, in 2019, the issue of racialised exclusion in HE still persists, as it does in schools!

  2. A promising start. But we should be careful about how this sensitive matter is handled. For the fear of hurting people, and the desire for cheap applause, may have the unintended consequence of preventing us from searching out the wound to the bottom; we must lay the problem of ‘racial inequality’ bare – to the bone.

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