Understanding Minority Ethnic
Flight from UK Higher Education
Dr Kalwant Bhopal, Dr Hazel Brown
and June Jackson.
[email protected]
• Race Relations Amendment Act (2000); Equalities Act
(2010); Athena SWAN; Race Equality Charter (ECU).
• Increase in BME students at HEIs (HEFCE 2012-13);
Indian and Chinese students more likely to have a degree
compared to White British (University of Manchester
March 2014)
• Inequalities continue to persist despite policy changes and
changes in student body (Bhopal and Jackson, 2013;
Pilkington, 2013); White applicants three times more likely
to secure a professorial post compared to BME candidates
(UCU, 2012).
BME academics in UK HE - statistics
14% minority ethnic population (England and Wales, Census
HESA Data (2014)
In 2012/13 out of a total of 17,880 professors:
85 were Black (less than 1%)
950 were Asian (5%)
365 were ‘other’ (including mixed) (2%)
Overwhelming majority White 15,200 (85%)
Representation and experiences
• Greater focus to date on gender rather than ethnicity
• Focus overall on students (widening participation,
internationalisation), less focus on staff
• Glass ceiling/ivory ceiling
• ‘Being ruled out for promotion; not being encouraged to apply’
(ECU, 2011, p.34)
• ‘If BME staff were represented in the professoriate in the same
proportion as they are among non-professorial academic staff
there would be 2,130 professors of BME origin. So, there is a gap
of 935 BME’ (UCU, 2012, p.5).
• Hyper-surveillance, ‘other’, intersectionalities
Deem and Morley, 2006; Hey et al, 2011; Morley, 2013; Pilkington,
2013; Puwar, 2004.
Bhopal and Jackson (2013)
• Some doubts about equality in starting salary/point on
• Higher threshold and filtering process (unwritten;
unspoken) regarding promotion applications
• REF: ‘neutralising ethnicity’/subjective biases
• ‘Outsider’ status
• Having to ‘fit in’: dress, communication styles (class, gender
and race).
• Funded by Equality Challenge Unit
• To understand reasons for overseas HE migration and
explore ethnic differences;
• To understand the push and pull factors which contribute to
actual or potential overseas HE migration and whether these
factors vary by ethnicity.
• To establish how UK HEIs can retain BME academics and
attract back those who have left.
Questionnaire survey distributed to all HEIs in UK (via ECU
and our own contacts) until early April 2014
41 in-depth interviews (14 UK; 12 with previous overseas
experience; 15 based overseas).
Survey Responses
1,201 responses of these:
146 (12.5%) BME and 1,024 (87.5%)White
504 (43%) female and 662 (57%) male
761 (65%) aged 40 and over, 417 (35%) under 40
12.4% self-identified as disabled
8.4% self-identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or other
732 (74%) in ‘old’ universities, 211 (21%) post-1992
One third of participants had overseas work experience
Positive elements of UK HE
• Having a full-time permanent post
• Good pension
• Treated with equity
• Co-operative working environment
• Family friendly policies
Push factors away from the UK – recruitment
• You have got to be ‘twice as good’ as white counterparts
• Lack of transparency/ “who you know”
• Perceived as not the ‘safe’ option [in the UK recruitment
• Invisibility/not expected to be in the space
- I arrived for the interview and I sat there, waiting and waiting. This
man came [professor]. He came in, looked around, looked at me,
walked out. After five minutes he came in, looked around the room, you
know, you wait like a waiting room, and then he walked out again. And
then I heard him say to the secretary, because at that time I was a Dr,
he said: where’s Dr [name]? And then I heard her mumble something. 10
And I saw his face turn red. And I thought: that’s it…I had had enough.
Push factors away from the UK: Barriers to promotion
Career ‘hits the buffers’
Race as a factor in who is encouraged, or not, by senior
colleagues – isolating and demotivating impact
Prospects limited and promotion ‘an illusion’
Lack of transparency – ‘nebulous’ criteria
Feeling of being judged more harshly/different criteria
Work on race, ethnicity, seen as a deficit
REF – recognition of publications outside the ‘Anglo-American’
Pull factors to overseas - Academic
• To work temporarily (unable to get work in UK – so aim to
gain experience then return)
• Supportive environment for BME scholars – and examples
of others going overseas (permanent or secondment);
positive messages from overseas institutions
• Intellectually treated as an equal – credibility and status
given to BME staff
• Institutional space, and institutional support for black
• Supportive environment for research (no RAE or REF)
• Less of an administrative burden
Pull factors to overseas - Lifestyle
• Quality of lifestyle; better opportunities for family
• Culture “Whereas in the USA we go out to dinners together,
and there is always a sense of wanting to talk to everyone in
the corridors, that culture is one that I value and like”
• Better weather; travel; learning different languages
• Giving something back, to make a difference (e.g. Africa;
China; India)
What would attract back or retain BME academics in
UK HE sector? 1
• A sense that BME academics would be welcomed and valued –
that academic life has become more diverse – a critical mass
• Recognise BME academics as repositories of knowledge, not just
objects of study
• Greater visibility of BME people in academic and decision
making roles
• Problematizing, and having a set of institutional frameworks that
facilitate doing something about racism and lack of BME
academics in senior positions
• Acknowledge unspoken entitlement of certain people;
acknowledge areas of disadvantage – micro-aggressions/day to
day experiences of minority ethnic people which accumulate
What would attract back or retain BME
academics in UK HE sector? 2
• A specific recognition of and valuing of diversity (rather than
asking people to ‘fit in’) in staff and in curricula
• Development of Black Studies; avoidance of London-centrism (in
Black Studies)
• Opportunities to be a visiting lecturer/professor/exchange/
examiner in UK – maintain connections: “those things would
begin to pull you back”
• Positively identify and encourage BME candidates and potential
candidates (avoiding tokenism) – make an active effort;
transparency in recruitment
• Networking/mentoring/training
Questions arising
• Are we achieving a greater understanding of the
experiences of minority ethnic academics?
• Do we have practical recommendations for easily
achievable action on what would attract/retain minority
ethnic academics?
• Participant saturation: same people contribute to each
research project. How do we capture the views of those not
wanting to be labelled as BME?
• What are the priority areas?

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