Race in academia

According to a Freedom of Information request obtained by The Saint, only one black academic (defined as a staff member with both teaching and research responsibilities) worked at the University of St Andrews during the majority of years between 2010 and 2015. An exception is found in the 2013-14 school year, when the University had three black academic staff members.

Comparatively, the number of white academics averaged 500 between the 2010-11 and 2014-15 academic years.

The number of black academics employed by the University between 2010 and 2015 averaged 0.3 percent of the total number, while the number of white academics remained stable at an average of 84 percent. Asian academics averaged 3.3 percent of the total staff, with the remaining percentages allocated to those designated as “other” or “unknown.”

Charlotte Andrew, president of the Students’ Association, promoted increased diversity throughout her campaign. She said that more should be done to increase outreach initiatives and inclusivity, adding, “ensuring we have a diverse and highly qualified staff population is of benefit to all involved in the University. It’s an area in which we should always be trying to improve, and I think it’s an extremely positive sign that we have a new principal whose previous experience and current priorities often revolve around the promotion of equality and diversity.”

Principal Professor Sally Mapstone has indeed been vocal about her internationalist outlook. During her installation address last November, Professor Mapstone said the University “must become more clearly inclusive. This is not something around the edges of what we are as a university; it is central to how we are, and to how we attract the best and the brightest to us at all levels, and how we retain them. And it is central to the message that we are an open and diverse community.”

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Professor Mapstone also referenced the University’s aim of attaining the Race Equality Charter Mark, which is awarded to institutions that achieve excellence in advancing racial equality. St Andrews was one of 21 universities that participated in the initiative during its inaugural year. Eight universities eventually received recognition, but the St Andrews was not one of them.

The growing focus on racial diversity in UK higher education is apparent in initiatives such as the Race Equality Charter Mark, as well as university-specific efforts and the creation of groups such as the Black British Academics.

In March 2014, University College London held a public talk entitled “Why Isn’t My Professor Black?” Speakers questioned why just 85 of the UK’s 18,500 professors were black.

During the talk, community and voluntary sector studies lecturer Dr William Ackah, of Birkbeck, University of London, compared the representation of black academics in the UK and the US.

Dr Ackah said, “There are a lot more black academics, administrators, and leaders [in the US], not just in black studies but other subjects as well.”

infographic
Infographic: Meilan Solly

The Black British Academics, an independent organisation dedicated to racial equality, offered further insight about black academic staff members’ experiences at higher education institutions.

The group’s 2014 Race Equality Survey found that 73 percent of 100 individuals surveyed rated their institutions’ racial equality performance as “poor” or “very poor.” 56 percent of those same individuals reported facing discrimination.

According to the FOI request obtained by The Saint, no complaints related to racism against academic staff were lodged in the 2015-16 academic year.

A University spokesperson said, “The University is […] working on Black & Minority Ethnic (BME) outreach initiatives, such as promoting the University on the UK Black History Month website and working with BME communities across Scotland.”

The ethnic makeup of academic staff at St Andrews is, overall, similar to that of universities across the country.

The Higher Education Statistical Agency, which specialises in higher education analysis, found that during the 2015-16 school year, 3,205 out of a total 201,380 academic staff members (widely defined to include those with teaching, research, and/or administrative duties) across the UK identified as black. 158,409 identified as white, while 16,750 identified as Asian. The remaining 23,025 were designated as “other” (including mixed race) and “unknown.”

In terms of percentages, white academics made up 78.7 percent of academic staff members, while black individuals made up 1.6 per cent. The number of Asian academics fell between these figures at 8.32 per cent.

During the 2015-16 school year, white academics at St Andrews formed 82.3 per cent of total staff, while black and minority ethnic (BME) academics made up 8.92 percent. The remaining 8.75 percent of staff members were classified as “unknown.”

On a smaller scale, St Andrews’ percentage of BME staff remains comparable to other top UK institutions.

“THE UNIVERSITY IS […] WORKING ON BLACK & MINORITY ETHNIC (BME) OUTREACH INITIATIVES, SUCH AS PROMOTING THE UNIVERSITY ON THE UK BLACK HISTORY MONTH WEBSITE AND WORKING WITH BME COMMUNITIES ACROSS SCOTLAND.”

During the 2013-14 school year, the University of Cambridge’s staff consisted of 11 per cent BME individuals, while the University of Oxford’s academic and research staff consisted of 13 per cent BME individuals. The Russell Group Universities’ average percentage of BME academic and research staff was 13 per cent. St Andrews’ percentage of BME total academic staff (teaching only, research only, and teaching and research) was 10.2 per cent.

Halia Mohammed, the Students’ Association member for equality, said she thought course selection was partially to blame for a lack of staff diversity at St Andrews.

“The University may be lacking in its number of academics from minorities, not because it does not try, but rather because of the courses we offer,” she explained.

“St Andrews does not run many of the traditional degrees such as law and engineering, which attract the largest number of ethnic minority groups in academia.

“It is also true that academics from ethnic backgrounds tend to culminate in city universities, and that the demography of Scotland is not the most diverse.

“I do not believe this is a deliberate attempt to exclude anybody. […] That being said, I believe more could be done to incentivise academics from more diverse background[s], even with simple outreach programs, and with time I’m sure this will occur.”

Another potential explanation for the low numbers of BME staff is a lack of positive action in higher education recruitment.

Under positive action recruitment guidelines, which are completely voluntary, hiring managers are allowed to recruit individuals with a “protected characteristic that is underrepresented in the workforce,” such as age, gender, or race.

These individuals may be hired over equally qualified candidates without underrepresented characteristics.

This might mean, for example, that a woman with the same qualifications as a man would be offered a position in order to increase the representation of females in the workforce.

According to a 2013 survey conducted by the Black British Academics, 77 percent of respondents supported the practice of positive action recruitment.

A spokesperson said that the University’s HR recruitment page states it “is committed to promoting equality of opportunity for all, which is further demonstrated through its working on the Gender, LGBT and Race Equality Charter Marks in addition to the Athena SWAN award for women in science. We particularly welcome applications from traditionally under-represented groups of the community.”

(The Saint, 2 February 2017)

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