Universities Scotland

Race Equality Toolkit

Learning and Teaching

Setting the Context

#1Towards race equality

Race equality aims to ensure the full and equitable participation of all racial groups.

There are several aspects to achieving race equality and all are necessary for a comprehensive and strategic approach to race equality in higher education. Single aspects used in isolation as the sole basis of a strategy to promote race equality will result in partial, fragmented or possibly inadequate responses. The interlinking aspects are:

Through engaging with all three aspects, opportunities are provided to meet the forthcoming duties of the Equality Act. Developing awareness of staff and students on the positive benefits as well as the complexities that arise from diversity will assist in developing an ethos and an environment that foster good relations between the diverse groups of people found within a university.

1.1Developing awareness of race-related matters

In 2001, the then Scottish Executive Race Equality Advisory Forum (REAF) identified some possible reasons for the lack of progress in the promotion of race equality and anti-racism in Scotland.

Firstly, the small size and scattered geographical distribution of Scotland’s visible minority ethnic communities has led people to view racism and racial discrimination as marginal issues for consideration in Scotland. Such thinking tends to be premised on the mistaken view that it is the presence of minority ethnic individuals or groups that cause racism and that race equality initiatives are simply for the benefit of minority groups. Awareness needs to be raised that as all groups have ethnic and cultural identities, race equality benefits all groups, minority and majority.

Secondly, there remains a belief that treating people the same is the most equitable way forward. This has resulted in differences of ethnicity, language, faith and belief, as well as culture, not being fully acknowledged or valued. The Forum indicated that such “neutral” approaches have also hindered the development of an understanding of the effects of racism and inequality. It is as unjust to treat people similarly when in relevant respects they are different as it is to treat them differently when in relevant respects they are similar.

The Forum concluded that there is a need to raise individual as well as collective awareness about race-related issues in contemporary Scotland.

The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey Attitudes to Discrimination in Scotland 2006 found that there has been a sharp rise in negative attitudes towards Muslims. The report said that “in 2003 38% of Scots interviewed said that Scotland would begin to lose its identity if more Muslims came to live here; by 2006 this had increased to 50%”. There was also a rise from 20% to 27% in the percentage of those interviewed who thought that minority ethnic people were taking jobs away from others in Scotland. The report indicated that discriminatory attitudes towards Muslims and towards minority ethnic people have become more common.

Racist incidents recorded by the police in Scotland

While racist incidents have dropped by 1% in the 2007/8 figures released by the Scottish Government in April 2009, attacks on white immigrants have almost tripled. The police also acknowledge that only 38% of racist crimes are ever reported and that individual forces are recording up to four reports per day of racist incidents. While this is likely to be due to increased confidence about reporting, it nevertheless indicates that these incidents are happening on a frequent rather than infrequent basis.

Minority ethnic people and employment in Scotland

All minority ethnic groups in Scotland are at least as likely to have degrees (or equivalent) as white Scottish people, yet employment rates for minority ethnic people are lower than for white people: 73% of non-white males were in employment compared to 77% of white males (latest available: Annual Scottish Labour Force Survey 2003/4). The figure worsens when race is coupled with gender. The Scottish Government states that the percentages of women working or actively seeking work ranges from 71% of white women to 52% of Chinese women and 37% of Pakistani and Other South Asian women.

The Scottish Government’s campaign “One Scotland: No Place for Racism” is designed to tackle racism in Scotland. Its website provides information about racism in Scotland, ethnicity data, and a history of migration into Scotland which traces the history of a diverse range of people in Scotland, from the Flemish and Irish to more recent migrants including refugees and asylum seekers.

A search on the internet using phrases such as “racism in Scotland” can provide up-to-date information about the realities of racism as faced by citizens and visitors to Scotland.

The scottish-related material page of the Resources section provides suggestions for further reading on race-related matters relevant to Scotland.

Awareness-raising is essential to address the perception gap that is likely to exist for the majority of Scotland’s people on matters related to race if they do not themselves experience racism or racial discrimination.

The numbers of visible minority ethnic students in Scottish higher education institutions is not high. It is important that the promotion of race equality is viewed as part of quality enhancement and as of benefit to all students, not just minority ethnic students.

1.2Valuing diversity

This is a positive approach, encouraging people to acknowledge and understand a range of differences — for example, linguistic, cultural, ethnic and faith/belief diversities — and to view these differences as strengths rather than as problems. This challenges fundamental assumptions and beliefs and encourages people to see difference as valuable and not as a threat to the stability of society and communities.

Diversity results in a wider range of views and experiences; without these a learning organisation such as a university can become parochial and closed instead of creative and outward-looking.

Diversity should not be used interchangeably or synonymously with equal employment opportunity or positive action, both of which have a base within race relations legislation. The goal of diversity is to create an environment where people, regardless of their diverse backgrounds, age, colour, ethnicity, sex, religion, disability, or sexual orientation, can feel appreciated and valued. Valuing diversity is essential for the growth of an organisation.

1.3Countering racism and racial discrimination

Discussions around cultural diversity can take place without any reference to issues of racism and racial discrimination. In the promotion of race equality, the reality that racism and racial discrimination can prevent genuine racial equality should be recognised. Proactivity is required for the development of an explicit anti-racist approach which will directly challenge racially discriminatory practice and highlight the dangers of stereotyping or making assumptions about people from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds. This approach would also assist people to understand how racism operates and to take action to counter racism in its different forms.

Crude racism is easily identifiable and is likely to be infrequent within higher education institutions. However, subtle, low-key, unintentional racism which is harder to detect may be more common. Consider these statements from a range of academic staff in Scotland:

I have seen people refusing to view them as individuals so staff will say things like “In Chinese culture”; meanwhile there are goodness knows how many Chinese and they are all very, very different. It is that kind of uniformity that is unhelpful. Staff like to show how clever they are by saying that in China, they like their names pronounced this way around or whatever, but for me this is somewhat patronising because you get the same kind of attitudes — broad sweeping statements and you do not get them treating Scottish individuals like that.

I know of a senior manager who, when asked by a member of the degree validation panel how the institution’s degree courses were taking into account issues of race, responded by saying “Well, we do not have many ethnic minorities here… ” implying that the Act was therefore less relevant to their courses.

No one knows how ethnic minority students are coping as there is no concept of trying to understand issues from these ethnic minority students’ perspectives.

I think political correctness has resulted in people being treated blandly and while this is not vicious racism, it is a form of racism. There is now a superficial politeness which people adopt but they do not really allow you into their secret club.

My experience leads me to conclude that evidence of conscious attempts to design programmes to include racial equality/diversity within teaching is almost absent. What little attempts have been made in this area has been more as a marketing tool.

Since the overseas, non-EU students have become more attractive for obvious reasons, university curriculum will design programmes/courses which might include some diversity. However, I have heard colleagues complaining about students wanting to write dissertations on topics related to home contexts.

What the above statements show is that personal attitudes, prejudices and values can and do play a part in influencing practice. Becoming more familiar with race-related issues, and hearing the voices of those who experience racism or racial discrimination, particularly the subtle forms of racism, will assist staff to sharpen their ability to detect different forms of racism or bias.