Most universities in the United Kingdom are grossly discriminatory employers, according to latest figures released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency. The HESA figures, published in The Times Higher Education Supplement in April, reveal that in 199899 only 9.8 per cent of professorships are held by women and 2.3 per cent by ethnic minorities.
The significance of the statistics was not lost on higher education unions and employers recently engaged in talks on ending discrimination, as governments and funding councils are intent on setting hiring and promotion targets for female and ethnic minority staff.
On May 18, the Association of University Teachers together with university employers and other campus trade unions agreed to a 'framework for partnership' designed to combat all forms of discrimination in the universities.
David Triesman, general secretary of the association said: "This is truly a landmark agreement. Higher education will come out of the darkness, out of a culture of institutional discrimination. And about time."
The HESA figures substantiate what activists have been saying for years: that policies designed to promote equal opportunities can be easily undermined, and preferential hiring practices still exist as barriers to equal opportunity.
The framework partnership calls for agreement on criteria to address inequalities in appointments, promotions, and terms of employment, and a joint approach to target-setting, data collection, monitoring appointments, pay levels, and the review of measures designed to ensure equality of opportunity.
"This framework is a clear and positive approach," said Triesman. "It is now up to individual universities."
According to reports the government is considering monitoring targets to ensure that university managements take equality seriously. People campaigning to force change argue that setting targets and having meaningful penalties for noncompliance would aid diversity in universities.
Equity advocates argue for the same types of programs here in Canada, and continue to press for meaningful legislative measures, including the use of the Federal Contractors' Program, the only current means of assessing university compliance with equity goals in Canada.