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After a week of largely disappointing news for UK higher education, Nicola Owen, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Lancaster University, fears that gloomy forecasts for the future of the sector may prove to be uncomfortably accurate.
Loughborough University has been named University of the Year for the second time in three years in the latest Whatuni Student Choice Awards .
UK higher education had more than its fair share of ups and downs over the past week. Charlie Ball, Head of Higher Education Intelligence at Prospects, charts the highs and lows.
As the Office for Students places a moratorium on ‘conditional unconditional offers’, Jon Scott, HE consultant and former Pro Vice-Chancellor (student experience) at the University of Leicester, reviews the context of the decision and considers its implications.
Universities across the UK have rapidly moved their learning, teaching and assessment online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The unprecedented overhaul of traditional teaching practices has presented a major challenge to institutions, staff and students. In this Good Practice Briefing, HEi-know shows how some universities have responded to the situation.
Sutton Trust associate director of media and communications Hilary Cornwell and research and policy assistant Maariyah Dawood comment on equality and widening access issues that have emerged in a week of higher education news.
Reviewing a week of higher education news, Action on Access Director Andrew Rawson celebrates positive action on equality and social inclusivity taken in the HE sector and calls for matching support from the government and employers.
Less than one per cent of senior academic managers in UK universities are British ethnic minority women, new figures from the Equality Challenge Unit have revealed.
The Unit’s ninth national staff equality data report shows that the proportions of female, black and ethnic minority (BME), and disabled academics has been rising over the last decade.
But the numbers of these groups reaching senior manager or professorial levels remains stubbornly low.
The report presents a snapshot of the age, disability, ethnicity and gender of the higher education workforce in the academic year 2014/15 and provides some comparisons with the data collected in 2003/2004.
Intersectional figures are also presented, showing the interplay of these various identities and recognising that people’s identities and social positions are shaped by multiple factors.
The report makes the point that intersectionality is increasingly a topic of consideration for equality and diversity practitioners.
“Apart from general growing interest in this area, this trend is also driven by institutional and procedural requirements, such as the new Athena SWAN charter principle on intersectionality, the inclusion of intersectionality in the Race Equality Charter principles and the addition of requirements on intersectionality to outcome agreement guidance in Scotland,” it said.
Over the last decade, the higher education workforce increased by 19.4 per cent, from 338,105 to 403,835, with academic staff numbers increasing by 32 per cent.
Just over two thirds of academic staff were on open-ended/permanent contracts (75 per cent). Of them, half (48.7 per cent) were on teaching and research contracts, and around a quarter were either in teaching only contracts (26.2 per cent) or research-only contracts (24.3 per cent).
Disability disclosure rates have increased consistently in the last decade. In 2014/15, 4.5 per cent of staff declaring as disabled, more than double that reported in 2004/05. The figure for professional and support staff was 3.9 per cent, while 5 per cent of academic staff declared as disabled.
Staff working in universities have increasingly become more ethnically diverse, with 8.5 per cent identifying as BME. In the last decade, the proportion of academic staff who were UK BME increased from 4.8 per cent to 6.2 per cent.
However, lower proportions of both UK and non-UK BME staff than white staff were on open-ended/permanent contracts, in senior contract levels, and on the higher salary bands.
The figures revealed that just 75 of the 13,040 British professors in higher education were black.
Overall, women make up the majority of staff working in higher education – 54 per cent - due largely to the high number of women in professional and support roles. The proportion of academic staff who were women has risen incrementally over time, increasing from 40 per cent in 2003/04 to 45 per cent in 2014/15.
Women continue to be underrepresented among staff holding professorships, senior manager positions, or working in science, engineering and technology subject areas. Just 20.4 per cent of vice-chancellors/principals are female, the figures show.
Higher proportions of women than men worked part-time; on fixed-term contracts; in lower contract levels; and on lower salary bands. The majority of academics on teaching-only contracts were female (52.3 per cent).
Gender pay gaps were evident among both academic staff and professional and support staff, although it was wider in the former group.
Intersectionality data shows that for both white and BME staff, gender imbalances were more pronounced among professors than other academics. Nearly 70 per cent of professors were white men, and 21.6 per cent white women. Some 7.3 per cent of professors were BME men, compared to just 1.9 per cent BME women.
The large majority of UK national academic senior managers were from a white background (67.5 per cent white male, 28.3 per cent white female). Just 0.9 per cent were BME female and 3.3 per cent BME male.
Commenting on the findings, Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "With an increasing proportion of women and black and ethnic minority staff in the profession, there is no reason for the continued lack of diversity in the top jobs. Fair, open and transparent recruitment and promotion procedures for senior jobs are in everyone’s interests, and universities must take decisive action to identify and tackle barriers to progression.
"A good starting point would be to reduce the use of insecure and hourly-paid contracts, which disproportionately affect women and minority ethnic employees and leave thousands of staff struggling to make ends meet, let alone progress in their careers."
Professor Mark Peel, Provost at the University of Leicester, said: "This latest research from the ECU is encouraging in that it shows that the higher education sector is making some progress towards equality goals.
"But the rate of progress is still far too slow, and the situation is unlikely to improve more rapidly until we have more women and people from under-represented groups in senior manager and professional positions. To bring that about, universities must tackle unconscious bias and take immediate positive action to identify and remove any other barriers to staff in these groups being held back from seeking and taking up opportunities for climbing the career ladder.
"At the University of Leicester we have taken a number of steps to address the issues, including taking a leading role in the United Nations Women HeforShe Campaign that encourages men to promote gender equality, embracing and acting upon the ECU’s Race Equality Charter, organising a series of active forums for stafffrom minority groups, and appointing a new Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor for Equality and Diversity.
"Our HR team has commissioned research to understand the gender pay gap so that we can seek effective and sustainable remedies, and we are engaged in the revision of our academic career structure and promotions in order to meet challenges raised by staff and to highlight contributions and achievements in areas such as leadership and citizenship that we identified as particularly important for women. We are aware there is still much more to be done, and will continue to push forward on this agenda."
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