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Universities should offer targeted support to older, disabled, female and black and ethnic minority students and staff, according to a report by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU).
The annual Equality in HE statistical report presents national data on age, disability, ethnicity and gender of staff and students in 2012/13.
It shows that while outcomes for many groups are improving, more needs to be done to make the higher education sector fair and inclusive.
David Ruebain, chief executive of ECU, said: “The sector is managing to reduce the ethnicity degree attainment gap, is providing a more inclusive and attractive environment for greater numbers of disabled students, and numbers of BME and female senior staff are slowly increasing.
“However, universities need to be focussing on specific areas to take action if we are going to transform the culture of HE into one that is fair, inclusive, and offers the same chances to everyone.”
The report shows that the ethnicity degree attainment gap is being reduced from a peak of nearly 19 per cent in 2005/06 to 16 per cent in 2012/13, and is now at its lowest since 2003/04. However, six months after graduating, nearly 11 per cent of BME students are unemployed, compared to just over 5 per cent of white graduates.
Young students are also more likely to achieve a good degree than those aged over 21.
The report said universities were “doing a lot of good work” in encouraging disabled students to enter higher education, and disclose a disability.The proportion of all students who disclosed a disability increased from 5.4 per cent in 2003/04 to 9.5 per cent in 2012/13.
But staff disclosure rates are much lower. While 16 per cent of working age adults are disabled, only 3.4 per cent of academic staff and 4.5 per cent of professional and support staff disclosed a disability in 2012/13.
This could mean that support for disabled staff may be under resourced and people may not be making use of Access to Work funding, the report says.
Under 4 per cent of senior managers were BME, despite comprising 8 per cent of all academic staff, and only 0.4 per cent of senior managers were black.Few professors were BME. Again, the difference is particularly noticeable for black staff, of whom just 0.4 per cent were professors. Among UK-national academic staff, white men accounted for 69.8 per cent of senior managers.
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