On the Absence of Black British Academics


It is a shocking statistic that there were just 85 black professors in UK universities in 2011-12. In stark terms, this means that there are more higher education institutions than there are black British, African and Caribbean professors actually teaching in them. The latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency put the number of UK academic staff from a known ethnic minority at 12.8%.

In contrast, black and minority ethnic students are well represented. In some institutions, such as City University, they make up nearly 50% of the student population. Yet even in these universities black academics are a rarity, particularly those in senior positions.

It is hard to think of an arena of UK public life where the people are so poorly represented and served on the basis of their race. Yet this scandalous state of affairs generates little by way of investigation, censure or legal scrutiny under the 2010 Equality Act.

Thanks, N!

5 thoughts on “On the Absence of Black British Academics

  1. This might be conflating two different topics: underrepresentation of ethnic-minority academics in general and underrepresentation of black academics in particular.

    The UK, according to the last census, is 87% white. (It’s a much less ethnically diverse country than the US where I think the number is about 70%). So that 12.8% is actually pretty much exactly what you’d expect on the basis of the UK’s ethnic mix. It’s possible to think that it should be higher given that academia ought to be international so the UK isn’t the right comparison class, but that’s then a much subtler issue and not one engaged with in the NS article.

    On the other hand, according to HESA’s database, 12.5% of the non-white academic staff are black. That entails that 1.5% of academic staff in total are black, significantly lower than the 3% of the UK population who are black. So there is specifically a problem of black (not ethnic-minority in general) underrepresentation.

    As for professors, according to the NS’s source there were 17310 professors in the UK of known ethnicity. Of those, 15990 (92%) were white. So at that level there’s some underrepresentation of non-ethnic-minority categories across the board, who make up only 2/3 of the number that would be expected on the basis of the UK’s ethnic mix. But the underrepresentation is way more dramatic for black professors in particular, who make up only 0.5% of those 17310. 7% of the 17310 are ethnic minorities other than black, whereas the number predicted by the UK’s ethnic mix would be around 10%. Of course, at the professorial level there’s probably a very large international mix and it again becomes subtle to work out the relevant comparator class.

    I do worry that if the article had said “there are only 510 black professors in the UK – fewer than 5 per institution” it would also have seemed (or could have been described as) shocking, even though that would actually be the statistically predicted level. In general I wish news articles were in the habit of actually providing some statistical context! (That isn’t to deny that the figure of 85 is shocking even in its appropriate context.)

  2. I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who knows a lot about the UK higher education system if there are structural and historical features of the system as a whole and hiring in particular that might significantly contribute to this result. That is, are there facts about how higher ed works in the UK, or how hiring is done, that seem especially likely to make this sort of outcome likely, beyond whatever might be the result of more obvious instances of racism and discrimination?

  3. David: I’ve looked at the data for recruiting Black and other ethnic minority candidates in academic positions at Oxford, which might help supply baseline data.
    As you can see on fig 16, 13% of applicants for research/academic positions were black or other ethnic minorities. Only 6% were shortlisted, and only 3% appointed. By contrast, 37% of applicants for these positions were white (note the remainder, 51% declined to state their ethnicity). The odds for white people getting shortlisted is 46%, and 44% of appointments were white. These figures aren’t good.

    Click to access Equality_report_2012-13_Sections_B_and_C_%5BFINAL%5D.pdf

    On the plus side, I was recently involved in recruiting and followed a 2 week course on recruitment, where we were made aware of these issues (that’s how I know about these figures). Hopefully, since everyone on a SC has to at least do the short form of this course every 4 years, it’ll help raise awareness for implicit biases against ethnic minorities in the hiring process.

  4. Helen: not good, but also rather puzzling. If you assume that the decision not to state ethnicity is not correlated to ethnicity or to talent, then the fraction of applicants who are BME (25%) is twice as high as the fraction of the UK population who are BME. I’d want to know more about why that is before drawing too many conclusions about the radically lower success rate for BME applicants as compared to white applicants. (By contrast, I’m fairly happy to draw worried conclusions from the total fraction of successful applicants who are BME – 7% – since it matches well to the 7% of actual academic staff at Oxford who are BME and is noticeably below the UK population fraction.)

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