Ben HaywardJanuary 20th
2021

Just 155 out of over 23,000 university professors in the UK are black, the latest official figures have revealed. 

This puts black representation among professors at under 1% - the same figure as for the past five years - and shows an increase of only just 50 posts despite professorships rising by over 3,000 in the same time frame, reports the BBC. 

The annual figures are published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency and provide a detailed snapshot of the UK's academic workforce,  showing that although focus on widening access for students has improved, opportunities for black academic staff remain scant.

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Dr Jo Grady, head of lecturers' union UCU, said: “The pace of change is glacial. Universities must do more to ensure a more representative mix of staff at a senior level and stop this terrible waste of talent.

Dr Halima Begum, chief executive of the Runnymede Trust race equality think tank, described the figures as ‘disappointing’ and ‘inexplicable’, given the ‘symbolic importance of education as the foundation of our values’.

"Around a quarter of British postgraduates are from ethnic minorities, there is clearly no shortage of qualified black and minority academics seeking elevation to senior teaching and research roles in our universities," said Dr Begum.

She also said university vice chancellors must take action over a problem they can ‘discern with their own eyes every single day they are on campus’.

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The number of black professors rose from 105 to 155 between the 2014-15 and 2019-20 academic years, however this represents a minute increase from 0.5% to 0.7% (7% are Asian and 89% are white) when framed by the fact that an additional 3,200 staff have been taken on at professor grade over the same time period. 

Kehinde Andrews, professor of black studies at Birmingham City University, said that ‘make-up of professors is the perfect reflection of the narrow Eurocentric views still produced by universities’.

"I have seen very few genuine attempts to address the issues of racism at any level across the sector," said Prof Andrews.

Among all academic staff, 2% are black, 10% are Asian, 75% are white, with the remainder classifying themselves under categories of ‘mixed’, ‘other’ or ‘not known’.

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As well as race disparities, there remains a pronounced gender and age  gap among professors, with the group heavily skewed towards males in their fifties, sixties and above, with just 28% females despite women representing 46% of all academic staff.

Baroness Amos, who was the UK's first black female university head, has previously warned of ‘deep-seated prejudices and stereotypes which need to be overcome’ when recruiting senior staff in the sector, while Universities UK said: “The evidence is clear that black and minority ethnic staff continue to be under-represented.

"More needs to be done to address this inequality which exists within higher education, which mirrors inequalities evident in wider UK society and which will require an unequivocal commitment to change.”

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