Is there only one senior black academic in the UK?

Valerie Amos could be the only black academic in a senior university position

SOAS’ director may be the only senior black academic in the UK, according to new figures.

Data released on 19 January by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) revealed that black people are only half as well represented in academic staff as they are nationwide, while no more than two black academics occupy the 565 most senior positions in universities.

This means that Valerie Amos, the former secretary of state for international development and now director of SOAS, is either the only senior black academic in the UK, or one of just two.

Of UK academic staff whose ethnicity is known, a mere 1.7 per cent — 3,205 people — are black, in comparison to the national figure of 3 per cent. This figure remains unchanged from 2014/15.

What is more, the number of black academics among the 565 managers, directors and senior officials employed by universities around the country is between zero and two. The exact figure is uncertain, as the HESA rounds to the nearest five*.

The column for ‘Managers directors and senior officials’ is empty in the ‘Black’ section, because the figure is recorded as zero

The wider picture for all Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) academic staff looks more representative. 14.5 per cent of academic staff are BME, above the national figure of 10.8.

This is an increase from last year’s figure of 13.9 per cent. However, only 4.7 per cent of managers, directors and senior officials are BME.

Baroness Amos became director of the School of African Studies (SOAS) in September 2015, becoming the first black woman to lead a university in the United Kingdom.

She was also the eighth UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, in which role she visited Syria in 2012 to urge President Bashar al-Assad to allow humanitarian access to the country.

University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Sally Hunt told me:

“We want universities to take decisive action to stop this terrible waste of talent.
“They need to examine the reasons why black and minority ethnic staff stop climbing the career ladder, and develop new, effective strategies to support them to reach the top.”

The statistics follow the publication last month of an independent review by the Runnymede Trust into institutional racism in the National Union of Students, which recommended, among other things, the introduction of race equality training.

A DfE spokesperson, nevertheless, insisted to me:

“Our higher education sector is already going further than the UK labour market average on BME representation in its staff.
“Under the Equality Act 2010, universities have a duty to ensure equal opportunities for those who may be discriminated against or under represented.”

Representational problems for academic staff do not end with ethnicity.

Only 3.9 per cent of academic staff are disabled, well below the national figure of 19 per cent. Meanwhile, women constitute only 45.3 per cent of academic staff.

*For this reason, a story in the Guardian headlined ‘British universities employ no black academics in top roles, figures show’ is misleading, and quite strange, given that it acknowledges Valerie Amos’ position at SOAs within the article.