Survey highlights need to promote race equality in higher level institutions

by Rachel Cunningham
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Rachel Cunningham

A new survey by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) has highlighted the need for a major drive to make their institutions more inclusive while also addressing discrimination based on the ethnicity of staff. 

A first of its kind, the survey by the HEA’s Centre of Excellence for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion also underlines the critical need for senior management to more actively engage with improving race equality in higher education.

Conducted in late 2020/early 2021, the purpose of the survey was to examine the lived experience of HEI staff in relation to race equality. All staff working in HEIs in the Republic of Ireland were invited to participate and a total of 3,323 respondents from a variety of nationalities and ethnic background.

Despite respondents describing experiences in Irish HEIs as generally positive across all ethnic groups, the majority agreed with the statement: ‘Race inequality exists in Irish higher education’.

The survey found that less than 50 per cent of respondents from minority ethnic groups were on full-time contracts, while the percentage of respondents from minority ethnic groups on permanent contracts was lower than those of other ethnic backgrounds.

‘White Irish’ stood at the most dominant group of respondents, at 72 per cent, with 17.5 per cent describing themselves as being of a ‘White Other’ background and 8.6 per cent selecting other ethnic categories.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Ross Woods, Senior Manager of the HEA Centre of Excellence for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, said the HEA was committed to taking a proactive approach to tackling all forms of racial and ethnic discrimination in higher education. “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.”

There was a significant difference between percentage of staff from minority ethnic groups earning less than €60,000 a year, at 66 per cent, compared to a lower level of ‘White Other’, at 58 per cent, and of ‘White Irish’, 45 per cent. A further 8.6% described themselves using other ethnic categories, among these were 1.7 per cent who identified as being ‘Asian’ (Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi), 1.4 per cent selected ‘Black African’ and 1.7 per cent responded as ‘Mixed background’.

Making up less than one per cent were the people who identified as ‘Asian Chinese’, ‘any other Asian background’, ‘any other Black background’, ‘Arabic’, ‘Irish Traveller’ and ‘Roma’ and anyone else who selected ‘Other’, made up 1 per cent.

The percentage of people who earn over €75,000 was the lowest among minority ethnic groups, who made up just 17 per cent, compared to 38 per cent of ‘White Irish’ and 25 per cent who identified as ‘White Other’.

Respondents underscored the lack of visibility of policies on race and ethnicity, as they were more likely to be within broader equality policies, such as Dignity at Work and Mutual Respect policy. Some noted significantly more emphasis on policies relating to gender rather than ethnicity.

Across all groups, respondents described reporting and witnessing racial or ethnic discrimination against minority ethnic staff and some complained that HR processes were inefficient in tackling the issue of racism in the workplace.

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

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