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In a week when the government reshuffled its cabinet, HE issues that made headlines gave the newly-appointed universities minister a taste of things to come, says Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers .
The past week’s events and news are a sign of turbulent times for UK universities, warns Nicola Owen, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Lancaster University.
Mike Ratcliffe, academic registrar at Nottingham Trent University, reflects on issues emerging from a packed week of higher education news.
The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for higher education has reported almost a 21 per cent rise in the number of complaints it received from students last year – rising to their highest ever level at 2,371.
Universities need to increase the proportion of women on their governing bodies, according to the funding body’s newly published equality and diversity statement and objectives.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) document lays out what action it will take in 2016-17 to promote diversity and equality both internally and across the sector.
It confirms HEFCE's approach “to guide, encourage and test” that universities are complying with their legal duties to promote equality, rather than set targets for institutions.
The exception is the objective to address the “chronic” under-representation of women on university governing bodies. HEFCE has already set a target of 40 per cent for the proportion of women on governing bodies by 2020. It also wants greater ethnic diversity on boards and will investigate ways of enhancing the equality monitoring of governing bodies.
The document signals HEFCE's intention to “re-focus the Student Opportunity allocation” to give more funding to institutions with higher proportions of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and to deliver a geographically-targeted national programme of collaborative outreach from 2016-17 to 2019-20.
The move is aimed at helping to meet the Government’s pledge to double the proportion of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education by 2020, compared with 2009; to increase the number of BME students in higher education by 20 per cent by 2020; and to improve the participation of white working class men.
HEFCE said that the trend is towards greater diversity, with more female and black and minority ethnic (BME) professors than ever before, more diversity in researchers and an increasing number of disadvantaged students entering higher education - but more can be done.
A slow pace of change means large disparities and inequalities remain in many areas, it said.
“If the proportion of female professors continues to increase at the same rate as it has over the past 10 years, it will take another 40 years for women to reach parity with men,” the document says. “The proportion of female vice-chancellors and principals is stuck at 19 per cent, the same figure for the past three years. On average, 16 per cent more white undergraduate students achieve first or 2:1 degrees than their BME counterparts.”
HEFCE will continue to convene the Diversity Summit partnership to identify further action. It will also support research into the role of executive search firms in recruiting to senior university positions.
Partnerships with the corporate world, to share good practice and identify solutions, are also encouraged.
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