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Black academics are being passed over for top positions at UK universities

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Universities in the UK are held in high regard around the world for the quality of their research and teaching.

But when it comes to hiring practices, they appear to fall woefully short.

According to figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) recently, no black academics have held senior management positions at British universities since 2013.

This means that black academics were overlooked for the 535 top positions available in 2015-16, encompassing manager, director, and senior official jobs. And this is the third year in a row that this has happened.

Based on university employment records for 2015-16, 510 were white, 15 were Asian, while 10 were “other including mixed”. Thirty top officials either refused to state their ethnicity, or failed to record it.

In fact, the data has revealed that universities are more likely to hire black staff as cleaners, receptionists, or porters rather than as academic staff.

While universities employed 3,205 black individuals as academics in 2015-16, up to 3,215 held secretarial roles or “elementary occupations” such as cleaners, porters, and security guards.

Former Higher Education Minister David Lammy called the revelation “absolutely shocking”.

Lammy, who is also the Labour MP for Tottenham, said: “I am appalled that higher education is so deeply unrepresentative of the country.

“Universities talk about widening participation and fair access, but the complete lack of diversity in senior positions sends out an absolutely dreadful message to young people from ethnic minorities who find themselves wondering whether university is for them or not.”

Earlier this week, Lammy had hit out at the University of Oxford, accusing its admissions officers of “unconscious bias” during the admissions process.

“We all tend to recruit in our own image,” he was quoted as saying, and if HESA’s figures are anything to go by, the problem may lie in a lack of representation and diversity among university staff, especially in the top tiers.

HESA found that it was back in 2012-13 that five black staff held top management positions at any UK university.

In its report, however, the Guardian noted that in 2015, Valerie Amos was appointed the director of SOAS University of London.

It explained that due to the agency’s policy of rounding down entries amounting to two or less to zero, Amos would not have shown up in the figures.

HESA’s data includes staff at 163 of the UK’s state-funded higher education institutions, as well as the privately-funded Buckingham University.

Speaking to the Guardian, Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of Universities UK, said: “We recognise that there is a serious issue with the lack of black representation among senior staff in universities. The evidence is clear that black and minority ethnic staff continue to be underrepresented at senior levels in higher education.”

She added that Universities UK supported the work of Equality Challenge Unit, which works to push for equality and diversity for black and minority ethnic (BME) staff and students in higher education institutions across the UK.

“We need to acknowledge and nurture the talent of our BME academics, and encourage those who have left to return,” she said.

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