News round-up: Universities reckon with “chronic absence” of BAME academics

As the Black Lives Matter movement sparks global debate, universities reckon with their severe lack of BAME academics and brace themselves for a potential wave of deferrals in the coming academic year.

NEW ON THE CDBU BLOG: ‘More than ever, university governors need academics as partners’

‘Rather than double down on existing modes of HE governance, a more enlightened approach would be to consider afresh what kind of individuals are best placed to offer informed oversight. How are schools and colleges represented? Who stands up for local communities? What kind of governance would strengthen universities’ links with neighbourhood health centres, youth groups and libraries? Clearly, governing bodies need members that understand finance, accountancy and business. But they also need members with awareness of universities’ core contributions to society.’

If universities struggle financially, BAME academics will lose their jobs first The Guardian, 10/06/2020

The same structural racism which has generated the inequalities that have resulted in the disproportionate number of BAME people suffering and dying from the impact of Covid-19 are at play in universities. Even before the pandemic, there was significant underrepresentation of BAME academics, and in particular those who describe themselves as black.

According to recent data from Advance HE, the sector is missing more than 300 black professors and more than 2,000 black academics. Whereas about 11% of all academics are professors, only 4.7% of black academics are professors. BAME staff are typically found in the most junior positions, often on fixed-term contracts, which also places them in the most vulnerable positions when institutions have to cut back. 

Universities must address “chronic absence” of BAME academics – The London Economic, 08/06/2020

Universities must do more to diversify their workforce to help alter the belief among students from ethnic minorities that some institutions are not for them, a vice-chancellor has said. Professor Nishan Canagarajah, vice-chancellor of the University of Leicester, has warned that black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) academics are “chronically absent” across the higher education sector. The University of Leicester has increased its efforts to “decolonise the curriculum” in subjects like English, history and law in recent months – and it is launching a scheme to recruit more BAME academics in teaching roles.

BAME academics are already under-represented, the response to Covid could reduce our numbers even further – WonkHE, 21/05/2020

Any action universities take to protect their financial position is likely to adversely impact on staff, not just on their wellbeing, but the level of redundancies, promotions and recruitment. In terms of the initial negative medical outcomes from Covid-19, we have already seen that the immediate effects are being felt by the most marginalised groups in our society, particularly BAME groups. In the higher education sector questions are already being asked about the impact on BAME students, but could Covid-19 be equally devastating for BAME staff particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic?

Universities can and should do more to address systemic racism – Times Higher Education, 12/06/2020

The global protests of the past week in response to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police have refocused attention on racism around the world, and rightly so. Higher education has not been left untouched. Our diverse communities – students, staff, alumni – are asking questions of university leaders and their colleagues. They are asking for much more to be done, beyond the utterance of platitudinous words of condemnation about racism towards black people. Their demands have urgency at the core, especially against the background of anguish about the differential impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on people of colour. George Floyd’s needless death exacerbates this anguish.

Doing nothing is not an option. And doing too little incurs the wrath of our communities. We as academics and institutions must stand up to be counted.

Disillusioned black Oxford students unwilling to help attract others – 12/06/2020

Some black students at Oxford University say they are so disillusioned by its failure to tackle racism that they no longer feel comfortable working on outreach programmes to attract others to follow in their footsteps, a leading BAME society has said. The Oxford African and Caribbean Society (ACS), the university’s main group representing black students, said it remained committed to widening access, but more needed to be done to foster an inclusive and anti-racist environment.

“I cannot in good conscience tell any black student to apply to the University of Oxford,” one student told the Guardian. “They have made a public statement in support of Black Lives Matter (BLM) but continue to alienate the black students within their university.”

Top universities prepare to lower offers to fill places as they prepare for a wave of deferrals – The Telegraph, 04/06/2020

Top universities are preparing to lower offers to fill their places this autumn as they prepare for a wave of deferrals. Russell Group institutions are hoping to plug the gaps left by international and European students, as well as British school leavers who decide not to take up places this year, by dropping their entry requirements.

“Universities want to fill their places,” said Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute. “There is a smaller number of 18-year-olds this year so it was always going to be a buyers’ market. “If I were a young person this year getting my A-level results and I didn’t quite get what I needed for a top university, I would be on the phone to them immediately to say ‘Will you give me a place anyway?’ and they probably will.”

UK universities seek government guarantee on research funding – Financial Times, 1/06/2020

Britain’s universities are asking the government to underwrite up to £2.2bn in annual research funding that has been jeopardised by falling income from international student fees due to coronavirus. With the annual total of £7bn in international fees set to fall sharply as foreign students stay away from UK universities because of concerns over safety or their ability to pay, Universities UK, which represents the sector, has proposed a government guarantee to tide institutions over until autumn, when the level of revenues becomes clearer.

This is online learning’s momentWIRED, 02/06/2020

As thousands of students logged into their university’s systems at the same time, poor connections and technical problems were the norm – and for the most part, teachers were left alone to troubleshoot issues, fix poor audio and video quality, and follow up with students individually to make sure they could access any missed content. With no end to the pandemic in sight, virtual classes are here to stay. They solve the problem of packed lecture halls and hallways that aren’t designed for social distancing – and are also far cheaper to run. But not many people want to pay almost £10,000 a year for the privilege of attending Zoom calls. 

Plan to cap numbers at UK universities goes ahead – The Guardian, 1/06/2020

The UK government is going ahead with controversial plans to limit the number of students from England who can enrol at universities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, rejecting opposition from the devolved administrations. Education ministers from Scotland and Wales angrily denounced the move, which they said was designed to stop damaging competition for students among English universities but could instead destabilise their own institutions. Michelle Donelan, the higher education minister for England, held meetings throughout the day with her counterparts from the devolved governments, but refused to back down on the policy.

Row over cap on English students at Scottish universities – BBC News, 02/06/2020

The UK government is to impose “student number controls” to prevent “over-recruitment” by some institutions. These controls will also apply to universities in Scotland, meaning they will not be able to increase the intake of English students by more than 6.5%. Scottish Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead said the move was “deeply disappointing and unnecessary”. Universities Scotland said it was “wholly unfair on students and student choice” and “disproportionately disadvantages Scotland”.

Enough with the one-dimensional employability discourse – HEPI, 30/05/2020

One of the implications of the prevailing employability narrative is to do with metrics. Metrics are most commonly associated with the world of commerce where the data generated are routinely used for measuring success, primarily in terms of profit. Universities are now operating in a multi-provider, competitive market place, where benchmarking and positional competition have become commonplace. Consequently, metrics have assumed an ever-increasing importance and influence, evidenced by the introduction of the regulator for higher education, the Office for Students (OfS). An example would be the use of graduate earnings as a benchmark for success. This metric is highly contested and, in a post-pandemic context, probably pointless.

Government must recognise the human cost to the crisis facing universities – WonkHE, 1/06/2020

Without clear, early action to fund that gap, provision will shrink, jobs will go and the role of higher education in our recovery will diminish. As well as not acting out in mere self-interest, our case is not borne out of a desire to defend or preserve the status quo. Marketisation has seen a different university system emerge in which staff are casualised wherever possible and students seen as cash-paying bums on seats. The current crisis has exposed the many faults in a system that glorifies competition and ignores student and staff concerns, leaving universities unable, and unwilling, to present a united front to protect the sector.

Students shouldn’t pay tuition fees next year, the government should
– The Guardian, 03/06/2020

If there ever was a functioning market for higher education, it is wholly disrupted at present. Why should we retain the idea that the £9,250 price tag is the best way of distributing resources to universities in a pandemic? After all, the government has already admitted the market needs regulation, by reintroducing number caps, and insisting that universities consider the structural integrity of the sector rather than aggressively competing for students. 

If fees are paid for by direct government grants to universities, rather than through student loans, students they will no longer feel let down by a subpar course, since we can all acknowledge universities are doing the best they can in an exceptional year. It is simply unfair that students enrolled this year should be the only cohort responsible for paying for this crisis.

Higher Education and pandemic uncertainty – AcademicIrregularities, 08/06/2020

If students are feeling anxious, academics are feeling the pressure of panicked demands for increased research activity from managers who at the same time are threatening redundancies.  Even as academics have struggled with home-based working, some university research mangers have demanded ‘business as usual’.

Public Higher Education for the Public Good: Addressing the Covid-19 Crisis – CommonWealth, 08/06/2020

The higher education sector is vital not only to the hundreds of thousands of jobs but to the principles of shared, common knowledge. Government intervention is needed and fast. But it is imperative that any sector bailout does not merely apply a sticky plaster approach, and instead is used to root higher education in a new value system: one that dismantles the current model of deepening financialisaton, debt, growing workplace insecurity, rocketing pay at the top and is instead centred on collaboration, community and social enrichment, creating publicly funded, publicly owned centres of research and development. 

Imperial Covid-19 researchers fight against axing ‘heroic’ IT staff – Research Professional News, 08/06/2020

Imperial College London expects to make 75 redundancies to save £2 million, according to UCU. Some of the scientists who are advising governments on the Covid-19 pandemic at Imperial College London have warned the institution against plans to cut its staff numbers. On 3 June, the university told 281 staff working in Information and Communication Technology that 156 of them were at risk of losing their jobs, according to University and College Union.

Imperial has said that it expects 75 staff to be made redundant, UCU says, with the first jobs expected to be axed in July. The cuts are expected to save it £2 million.But on 8 June, some of the members of the Imperial College Covid-19 Response Team urged the institution not to axe the jobs, saying their own Covid work relies on the support of the staff at risk.

Packed lecture halls won’t return soon, but students can still go to university – The Guardian, 03/06/2020

The UK’s universities haven’t gone anywhere – we are still teaching, supporting students remaining on campus, and running essential research projects, including to help us beat Covid-19. Universities are also starting to be ready to share more on their thinking about what next term will look like – and for most it will be a blended teaching approach: in-person when it can be done safely for both students and staff, with interactive online alternatives also available. Providing digital learning tools isn’t new for universities. Today’s students have an anytime, anywhere attitude to learning, choosing to engage with content, their tutors and their peers in a variety of different ways. We already know that students benefit from the ability to replay lectures – this is something many universities have been providing for a long time.

UK universities plan to create ‘social bubbles’ when campuses reopen – The Guardian, 03/06/2020

University students may have to live in halls of residence with others on their course and keep within physically distanced social bubbles when campuses reopen in September. Under plans being discussed at a number of universities, students would mix only with others on certain courses and year groups to minimise the infection risk from coronavirus. On campus, students and staff would move around in a one-way system.

Liz Barnes, the vice-chancellor of Staffordshire University, said the bubbles would allow students to access campus facilities while restricting the number of people they interact with. “It applies wherever they are on a campus,” she said.

See also: Government guidance on the reopening of university campuses

Lecturer and student relationships matter even more online than on campus – The Guardian, 08/06/2020

In the early days of teaching online, the focus was on recreating the familiar set-up of the physical classroom with the professor positioned at the centre – often referred to as the “sage on the stage”. The overall message was that nothing had changed, and the lecturer was still in charge. But us lecturers aren’t feeling so in charge anymore. Our experience of online teaching has been destabilising, but also levelling and humanising. Behind students as well as ourselves, we see kitchen tables and the occasional unmade bed. There is a lack of polish that feels more direct and more human. And this, in turn, prompts us to work in fresh ways with familiar material and precious expertise and experiences.

Almost a quarter of prospective students fear their university could go bust as a result of Covid-19 crisis – UCU, 03/06/2020

Almost a quarter (23%) of prospective university students fear that the university they wish to study at this year could go bust because of the Covid-19 crisis, warns a UCU survey of prospective university students. Half (49%) fear that damage caused by funding cuts because of the pandemic will negatively impact on their education and over two-thirds (71%) back a delay to the start of term.

UCU launches ‘Fund The Future’ campaign – UCU, 12/06/2020

In a letter to Boris Johnson to launch the union’s “Fund The Future” campaign, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said the government’s limited actions so far had failed to meet the challenges further and higher education face. The union said the government needed to provide financial guarantees to stop thousands of teachers, researchers and professional support staff losing their jobs at a time when education would be needed to drive the recovery from the pandemic. As well as writing to the Prime Minister, the union is urging its members and the public to use the new campaign website to contact their local MP to make the case for more funding and support.