A new report by the HEA (Higher Education Authority) published last month has highlighted the need for senior management in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to take on a leadership role in improving racial equality in higher education.

The survey, which was conducted in late 2020 and early 2021, allowed all staff in third level institutions – regardless of their ethnicity – to participate. However, the ethnic demographics of respondents broadly resembles that in CSO data of the general population.

72% of respondents defined themselves as White Irish, 17.5% described themselves as White Other Background, and 10% chose other ethnic backgrounds 1.7% of which were Asian, 1.4% Black African and the remainder chose the term Other.

In this case, the HEA has defined race equality as “equal representation, equal experiences, and equal outcomes of staff from minority ethnic groups”. Despite reports of positive collegiality among staff, the majority of respondents agreed that racial inequality exists in Irish Higher Education.

The survey results were grouped into 8 thematic areas: supporting diversity in staff, supporting diversity in student recruitment, making race and equality policies transparent, reporting mechanisms, awareness and training, fostering diversity in HEIs, leadership, and data collection.

The report revealed that less than 50% of respondents from minority ethnic backgrounds are on full-time contracts. 66% of Minority Ethnic Groups are earning less than €60,000 annually compared to 45% of White Irish and 58% of White Other. Furthermore, only 17% of respondents from Minority Ethnic Groups are earning more than €75,000 per year compared to 38% of White Irish and 25% of White Other.

All respondents reported that policies on race and ethnicity are less visible within broader equality policies such as the Dignity at Work and Mutual Respect policies and that there are more policies on gender than ethnicity. Every respondent described witnessing racial discrimination at some point, however, they were unaware of any effective guidelines to support reporting the discrimination that they saw.

Dr Lucy Michael, co-author of the report said that “recommendations made in this report are aimed at improving accountability, creating effective mechanisms for reporting, designing targeted programmes to address structural disadvantages, signposting and awareness.”

Additionally, Dr Ross Woods, Senior Manager of the HEA Centre of Excellence for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion said, “Now that we have an evidence base, the HEA can work with institutions to prevent rather than react to problems in this area and to keep pace with wider demographic changes in Irish society.”

Emma Hanrahan – Deputy News Editor