Equality in higher education: a fair outlook?

It could be wishful thinking, but it seems to me that efforts to promote equality in UK higher education have picked up some momentum recently. For instance, last week the latest round of Athena SWAN awards were announced, which

recognise success in developing employment practices to further and support the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) departments in higher education… The Charter exists to instigate real and continuing change for women, and also their male colleagues… departments have to demonstrate not just a commitment to improving working practices but also measure the impact these changes are having, and tackle areas where progress hasn’t been as fast.

The Equality Challenge Unit have also announced that they’re going to expand the pilot which extends the Athena SWAN programme beyond STEMM subjects to humanities and social sciences (philosophy, are you listening?) as well as beginning a small pilot project doing similar work on ‘race’ equality.  And they’ve just published some nice short briefings for academic staff on inclusive practice, promoting good relations and pastoral care.

Then there’s the Royal Society’s programme of work on diversity, including the STEM disability committee and a new diversity blog.  There’s Sheffield University’s Women Academic Returners’ Programme, which offers additional support (worth a maximum of £10,000) to women returning from maternity leave to minimise the impact on research activities.  Oh, and the Guardian Higher Education Network is having a live online chat about diversity in the university, today at midday.

There are things to celebrate: genuinely, if cautiously.  It’s good that the topic is getting attention.

But. But… to me, it feels a bit thin – even (potentially) a bit self-congratulatory.  Lots of us individually know full well that sexual harassment is a real and serious and current problem in universities, and one which is compounded by the failures of institutions to respond effectively.  So is bullying.  But ‘we’ don’t yet seem to know this collectively, as the academy, in a way which would make it intolerable for it to continue.

If the BBC can finally start to be honest about bullying and sexual harassment, why can’t we?