UNISON has submitted evidence to the Equality Challenge Unit on establishing a race equality charter mark for UK universities.
While there are Black workers in higher education, many struggle to make career progress in the sector.
There is growing recognition that an ethnically-diverse higher education workforce positively affects the ability of institutions to deliver core services to diverse student population.
A National Union of Students survey has revealed that Black students want a more representative workforce, diverse teaching practices and more Black role models.
But there is extensive evidence that Black staff are under-represented at all senior levels in higher education.
UNISON believes a race equality charter mark will address inequalities and get universities to think about race equality by examining their own practices and institutional culture,and developing actions plans.
This will identify the root causes of race inequality and develop some solutions that can be shared as good practice. Many higher education institutions and organisations have made advances on race equality, and there are a number of examples of good practice around, including the Higher Education Race Action Group and the BME Network of Networks.
The latter has been initiated by the Equality Challenge Unit, with input from UNISON and UCU, and it‘s hoped that it will be launched later this year.
British Black Academics is an online network developed for people of African descent in the academic community, which focusses on tackling racial inequalities in the sector and is also a voice for Black academics.
Stella HE (Diversity Forum) offers training programmes for BME staff, and is funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s leadership, governance and management fund.
UNISON is calling for a strong leadership commitment from senior managers in UK universities to work with Black staff to find out where barriers exist, and to put forward solutions to problems that are identified.
The union is keen that any self-assessment team that is established in a university to monitor the charter mark should include a trade union representative.
It would provide access to expertise and also be a positive step in collective engagement on this issue.
The union’s Greater London regional higher education committee chair, Elizabeth Baptiste, commented: “A race equality charter would enable the sector to acknowledge race equality as an issue. It would enable universities to develop a long-needed framework for the sector and it would make higher education institutions put race back at the agenda.”
She added: “However, there are limitations about what a charter mark can do to influence individual attitudes. This means an organisation should give due regard to not only eliminating unlawful discrimination, but to advancing equality of opportunity and fostering good relations between Black and white staff.”
UNISON is the leading trade union representing support staff working in higher education in the UK.