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The Race Equality Charter at the University of Manchester

  • 2 August 2022
  • By Dawn Edge, Banji Adewumi, Fran Guratsky and Tahira Majothi

This blog was kindly provided by Dawn Edge, Banji Adewumi, Fran Guratsky and Tahira Majothi at the University of Manchester.

July marked the start of a 12-month countdown to the University of Manchester’s next Race Equality Charter (REC) submission. The REC provides a framework for engagement, critical self-assessment, transparency and action planning to address longstanding inequalities experienced by people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds in higher education. The process facilitates identification of good practice and areas where more concerted effort and positive action is required and challenges us as an organisation to ask ourselves hard questions, such as: 

  1. What progress have we made towards race equality?
  2. What more must be done to ensure systems and processes are fair for everyone?
  3. Are all staff and student voices heard and represented equally?
  4. Is there genuine buy-in and accountability at all levels, including senior leadership? 

The REC framework promotes benchmarking against and learning from other higher education institutions. Importantly, it also enables staff and students to collaborate on developing bold, ambitious and integrated action plans that acknowledge structural inequalities and demonstrate commitment to tackling barriers to progress and achieving equity for all. 

Our race equality journey

Underscoring our ongoing commitment to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), the University of Manchester has been part of REC since its inception in 2015. We were one of just nine universities to achieve an inaugural Bronze award. We received our second Bronze award in 2018 in recognition of steps taken to identify racial inequalities and develop plans to eliminate them for both staff and students. We re-stated our intention to accelerate progress in the Race Matters report in 2020.

Actions we have undertaken to deliver our REC 2018 and Race Matters 2020 action plans include:

  • The ‘Speak Up Stand Up’ active bystander campaign, co-delivered by the University and the Students’ Union, to demonstrate our zero-tolerance approach to harassment and discrimination as well as promoting Report and Support, a bespoke platform to enable reporting and improved access to support for those affected.
  • A new process, guidance and exit questionnaire for staff leavers to provide better information and insights into the reasons staff leave, developed by our Directorate of People and Organisational Development.
  • Embedding initiatives such as Inclusive Advocacy, StellarHE and 100 Black Women Professors Now to support the career progression of academic and Professional Services staff from underrepresented groups.
  • The University is conducting initial research and publishing its findings into historical links to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, with further consultation underway.   

Where do we go from here?

Our plans for the REC submission process and beyond are underway. The self-assessment team of staff and students is established and clear routes to leadership identified. Our endeavour will be supported by Advance HE, which has reviewed and enhanced the REC submission process for greater information sharing and impact following calls for improvement.

Our 2015 and 2018 REC action plans quite rightly focused on identifying areas of inequalities and developing initiatives to address them. However, to ensure equity of opportunity and truly inclusive experiences for all members of our University community, we now need to do more and faster. Progress and the pace of change towards achieving race equity and addressing inequalities have been slow. This can cause frustration, fostering disengagement and distrust among underrepresented groups.

Accordingly, we are working towards applying for a REC Silver award in 2023. Achieving a Silver award requires evidence of the demonstrable impact of sustainable actions to tackling inequalities. In other words, we must go beyond identifying problems and show that the actions we have implemented are making a difference. If successful, we could be the first UK university to achieve such recognition.

Meaningfully engaging with our staff and students, and listening to and learning from their experiences, are integral to our self-assessment process. This has been a prominent feature in the development of the University’s EDI strategy which will launch in the autumn of 2022, and this approach will continue. 

Staff and student voices will inform the action plan developed as part of the REC process to ensure that the University is a good place of work and study for all its staff and students. This process is not for the fainthearted. It means being prepared to hear and respond to the good, the bad and the uncomfortable via staff and student consultations. Invaluable insights from ‘difficult conversations’ will feed into our submission, highlighting where progress has been made as well as where ongoing barriers, differential experiences and discrimination still exist, and where further action is needed. 

While we must give greater focus to our race equality work – with REC providing one mechanism for doing so – we will move beyond a siloed approach that considers groups, protected characteristics and chartermarks in isolation. Such an approach fails to recognise the multiple identities that each of us hold and hinders progress towards equity for all. The REC framework enables us to take this critical intersectional view, meaning our considerations and reflections are equally relevant for promoting equality in other areas via relevant chartermarks – Athena Swan(gender), Disability Business Forum (within which Disability Confident is covered) and Stonewall (sexual orientation). The University will make submissions for all of these chartermarks in 2023.

Context is key

Our work to address inequalities in access, opportunities, progression and life chances sits against an external backdrop of debate and criticism about the effectiveness and impact of REC and the motivations of Advance HE (the REC awarding body) and universities involved. 

As a University, we stand alongside many other higher education institutions in our firm commitment to REC and to progressing race equality and equity for all. Our collective view was outlined in the Universities UK response to the Minister for Universities – for us, REC and similar chartermarks do not limit freedom of speech or academic freedom. Rather, they enable all members of our University community to share their experiences safely and contribute to collective positive action. Moving forward, we at the University of Manchester are determined to utilise the chartermarks better as mechanisms for meaningful change in our continuous endeavour to tackle inequalities.  

About the authors:

Dawn Edge is Professor of Mental Health and Inclusivity, the University of Manchester’s Academic Lead for Race, Religion and Belief and Chair of the REC self-assessment team (SAT).

Banji Adewumi MBE is Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Manchester and a member of the REC SAT.

Fran Guratsky is the Chartermark Coordinator at the University of Manchester and a member of the REC SAT.

Tahira Majothi is EDI Partner at the University of Manchester and a member of the REC SAT.

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