14,000 British professors – just 50 are black


The Guardians Education Correspondent, Jessica Shepherd wrote at the end of May:

Call from leading black academics that an urgent culture change is needed at UK universities as figures reveal just 50 black British professors out of more than 14,000, and the number has barely changed in eight years, according to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

The University of Birmingham was the only University with more than two black British professors, and six out of 133 Universities have more than two black professors from the UK or abroad. The statistics which were gathered, from 2009/10, define black as Black Caribbean or Black African, and do not include professors of South American or Asian backgrounds.

Shepherd writes “Black academics are demanding urgent action and argue that they have to work twice as hard as their white peers and are passed over for promotion”. A study to be published in October found ethnic minorities at UK universities feel “isolated and marginalised”. One wonders how these academics differ to any other minority workers in Britain? I’m sure that any study in any workplace might reveal similar figures.

Emeritus professor at the Institute of Education, University of London, Heidi Mirza, is demanding new legislation to require universities to take a stronger stance on tackling discrimination.

Laws brought in in February 2011 give employers, including universities, the option of hiring someone from an ethnic minority, if they are under-represented in their organisation and are as well-qualified for a post as other candidates. This is known as positive action. Mirza wants the law amended so that universities are compelled to use positive action in recruitment.

Mirza stated that there were too many “soft options” for universities and that there needed to be penalties for those that paid lip-service to the under-representation of minorities. Positive discrimination, where an employer can limit recruitment to someone of a particular race or ethnicity, is illegal.

The HESA figures show black British professors make up just 0.4% of all British professors – 50 out of 14,385.

This is despite the fact that 2.8% of the population of England and Wales is Black African or Black Caribbean, according to the Office for National Statistics. Only 10 of the 50 black British professors are women.

Despite the fact that 0.4% of all professors are black. I feel that someone is overlooking some glaringly obvious facts which distort the information and the context in which it has to be viewed.

The figures reflect professors in post in December 2009. When black professors from overseas were included, the figure rose to 75. This is still 0.4% of all 17,375 professors at UK universities. The six universities with more than two black professors from the UK or overseas include London Metropolitan, Nottingham, and Brunel universities. Some 94.3% of British professors are white, and 3.7% are Asian. Some 1.2% of all academics – not just professors – are black. There are no black vice-chancellors in the UK.

Harry Goulbourne, professor of sociology at London South Bank University, said that while the crude racism of the past had passed, universities were “riddled with passive racism”. He said that, as a black man aspiring to be a professor, he had had to publish twice as many academic papers as his white peers. Stating that he had switched out of the field of politics, as it was not one that promoted minorities. He called for a “cultural shift” inside the most prestigious universities.

Mirza said UK universities were “nepotistic and cliquey”. “It is all about who you know,” she said.

Visiting professor of education at Leeds University, Audrey Osler, described the statistics as “a tragedy”. “Not just for students, but because they show we are clearly losing some very, very able people from British academia.”

Black Students seeking academic posts were also questioned. Many students were seeking academic posts in the United States where they believed the promotion prospects were fairer. Some students that said too little was being done to encourage clever black students to consider academia and that many were put off by the relatively low pay and short contracts.

Nicola Dandridge, of Universities UK – the umbrella group for vice-chancellors also acknowledged the problem. Dandridge, said:

“We recognise that there is a serious issue about lack of black representation among senior staff in universities, though this is not a problem affecting universities alone, but one affecting wider society as a whole.”

A study by the Equality Challenge Unit, which promotes equality in higher education, found universities had “informal practices” when it came to promoting staff and that this may be discriminating against ethnic minorities. Its findings, Which will be published in the Autumn of 2011, are expected to call on universities’ equality and diversity departments to be strengthened.

Mirza said that despite equality committees being aware of the problem, the committees are on the margins of the decision-making.

Nicola Rollock, an academic researcher in race and education at the Institute of Education, University of London, said there needed to be greater understanding of how decisions were made inside universities. Equality departments risked being “an appendage” or a monitoring form for people applying for jobs. “We are still far more comfortable talking about social class than race in universities,” .

3 thoughts on “14,000 British professors – just 50 are black

  • 20th June 2011 at 10:54 am

    I was intrigued by this article and so did a bit of rough maths around the subject.

    2.8 per cent of the population ore black 2.8 of 60 million
    2.8% of the british population equates to 1,680,000 people.

    If we suggested that the figure of 2.8 should be represented in the number of professors then 2.8 % of all British Professors would mean there should be 402.78 (403) black Professors.

    However, only 14,385 of the whole population are professors, that’s 0.025%
    So, if we take 0.025% of 1,680,000 ( the total number of black people in the uk) we get 420

    Which demonstrates that in the whole of the U.K Britain’s Universities are 370 Black Professors short.

    However, figures alone do not paint the whole picture. Most people who become Professors are Men, and they are Middle class, the size and age of the white middle class and the size and age of the Black Middle Class isn’t taken into account. Furthermore, we need to examine the access that black women have to professorships. Only one 5th of black professors are women.

    We need to examine ways in which black women are treated in education.
    Black People, in Britain, in the main, have only had access to the U.K education system for a little over 50 years. Despite this Asians are performing better. What is the reason for this discrepancy?

  • 5th July 2011 at 8:12 pm

    I will read and be the best

  • 18th September 2015 at 11:57 pm

    I think that Jessica Shepherd was a a little disingenuous with her article as it was clearly written on the back of the research done by a black student at Goldsmiths University by the name of Nathan Richards.


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