Breakdowns on racial and ethnic diversity in university staff in Ireland to become compulsory.

Image Credit: Dominic Daly

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) has outlined that third-level institutions must provide an annual breakdown of ethnic diversity among University staff from December 2020.

The HEA has also outlined that it will be collecting information on race equality amongst higher education staff through a national survey. The categories of data that will be collected were chosen with the involvement of higher education institutes, through the Athena SWAN Ireland Intersectionality Working Group.

In September the British Council in Ireland and the Royal Irish Academy issued a report emphasising the urgency of publishing breakdowns of ethnic diversity among Irish academia in order to highlight and tackle the lack of diversity. The group welcomed the news that the HEA would begin collating and publishing these figures, stating that it’s “really positive” to see this progression.

Before this implementation, there was no centralised database providing information on the ethnic and racial diversity in Irish academia. 

The report by the British Council in Ireland and the Royal Irish Academy was carried out with the aim to help bring about change in the academic community and involved a discussion on ethnicity, race, diversity and inclusion. The paper discussed ideas to encourage greater inclusion of underrepresented groups such as the Irish Travelling community, Black, Asian and other ethnic minorities.

In creating the report, the group utilised the limited data on diversity breakdowns available from university websites and the HEA. The lack of data on race and ethnicity in Irish Higher Education was highlighted, it was emphasised that a lack of data collection has hindered the HEA in ensuring sufficient diversity, and increasing the involvement of underrepresented groups. 

The report also indicates that based on the limited data Ireland appears to suffer from a severe lack of diversity in Higher Education Institutions. The report suggested that there is only one full-time Black female professor employed in Ireland, however, there is no nationally verifiable data available to confirm this. Data on whether Irish Travellers, Asians, and other ethnic minorities are present in academia is also not verifiable but it is thought to be equally low.

Dr Ebun Joseph, a Nigerian-Irish lecturer and creator of the first Black Studies module in Ireland, which can be found in UCD, emphasised to The Journal the importance of the collection of this data, as without it Universities have the ability to avoid dealing with a diversity issue.

The report indicated that figures from the UK suggest that 16% of all UK academics identified as Black in 2019, and in 2018-19 out of those working in managerial roles in academia, twenty-five people identified as Asian, mixed or other ethnicities, while none identified as Black.

As Ireland does not have specific data for diversity in Higher Education, these figures were contrasted against a 2018 study by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the ESRI. The study found that those from the Black non-Irish group are less than half as likely to be employed than the White Irish group, and five times as likely to experience discrimination in the search for work. People from the Black Irish group are twice as likely to experience discrimination when seeking work, and just under three and a half time as likely to experience discrimination in the workplace in comparison to the White Irish group.

The Black non-Irish and Black Irish groups were also much less likely to hold a managerial role. The Asian Irish group was found to have similar rates of employment compared to the white Irish group, but are almost twice as likely to experience workplace discrimination.

The report also found that members of minority groups feel an immense personal sense of responsibility to push for greater equality and change in their Higher Education Institute, and the pressure of this advocacy role was difficult to balance with the academic work and career goals. 

Although there was no verifiable data regarding Irish Travellers in Irish academia, the report suggests the data would likely mirror the low rate of Irish Traveller students attending Higher Education Institutes.

UCD has a range of initiatives to support multiculturalism as part of the University’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy (EDI), including the Multicultural Employee Network of UCD and the, currently in the works, Ethnic Diversity/Race Working Group. UCD also participates in national networks which address EDI issues, such as the National Athena Swan Committee.