BLM: St Andrews says sorry

Friday 12 June 2020
Professor Sally Mapstone, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews
Professor Sally Mapstone, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews

Dear Colleagues and Students

Thank you to those of you who took the time to write to me and senior colleagues last week, in both positive and critical terms, about support for Black Lives Matter and the determination we all share to improve the representation of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students and staff in this community, and further afield.

I make no apologies for returning to this issue in detail. It should remain for us the subject of debate, argument, fact, and discomfort if necessary.

We know that for decades, St Andrews hasn’t got this right, that we’ve let down our BAME students and staff, and that our university has been, and continues to be, so much the poorer for it. On behalf of this institution, I apologise for that.

Acknowledging that injustice, understanding what we are and have been doing to right it, and where we must all play a part in enabling structural change, is an absolutely fundamental step in our reform.

If we are committed to drive continuous change rather than simply react to protest, it is important that we all understand where St Andrews is in its journey to become the diverse, inclusive, and accountable organisation to which we committed in our Strategic Plan.

Today, we are publishing comprehensive Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Progress Reports. These represent the culmination of a year-long project to generate extensive and reliable evidence against which we can measure progress.

These reports are as transparent as it is possible to be about the extent to which our staff and student communities are diverse, and the gaps which we are addressing.

Please make time to read them, revisit them, and draw your own conclusions.

There will be findings which surprise you, others which you may have expected, and still others which should broaden the debate about the nature of the change that is required.

They show that just over 20% of our student population identifies as BAME. In Scottish universities, the proportion of the student population which identifies as BAME is 8.8%.

Amongst our staff, 6.6% of you identify as BAME. Amongst our taught postgraduates the figure is 35.4%, amongst our research postgraduates it is 24.6% and amongst our undergraduates 17.9%.

In Scotland, 4% of our population identifies as BAME, and in Fife that figure is 2.4%.

These statistics, and accompanying detailed information on attainment and retention, give us all food for thought, and provide important context for the actions we are taking to improve BAME representation. Much of this work is not showy or headline seeking, but it is sustained, evidence based, and the result of hard work and commitment from our BAME students and staff on which we can all build.

So, what are we doing?

In February 2020, we launched the University’s first Race, Ethnicity, Religion and Belief Equality Group to identify and address issues or cultures which disadvantage BAME people in our community. We’re ambitious, our clear aim is to secure the Advance HE Race Equality Charter. This group will oversee a staff and student survey specific to race equality to identify cultural experiences of discrimination.

This working group has a mix of BAME staff and student representatives and white staff and student representatives, with BAME members being in the majority. It is important that there is a formal forum for BAME focused issues where BAME staff are in the majority.

Last year we set up a Name Blind Working Group in direct response to requests from our students of colour. This group is examining all evidence on the advantages and disadvantages of name-blind applications, and we are already acting on some of its recommendations, including a requirement for Admissions to undertake a mid-cycle review to ensure students from BAME backgrounds, as well as others facing potential disadvantage, are making progress in the admissions process.

This group has ensured that we are involving BAME students from St Andrews to give recruitment presentations at their secondary schools, working to encourage more BAME students to become ambassadors, and reviewing all our marketing material to learn what attracts students from a variety of backgrounds, as well as what leads them to self-select away from St Andrews.

In March 2020, we appointed Jasmin Hinds as Research Fellow and Project Manager in Equalities to work with our Assistant Vice-Principal for Diversity, Professor Ruth Woodfield, and our Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Sukhi Bains, to implement EDI initiatives across the University. Jasmin Hinds is an expert in race in HE. We have also appointed an EDI Project Officer, and two EDI Area Leads (one for Arts and Divinity and one for Science) to further the EDI agenda within their respective faculties.

Our Project Manager in Equalities will be working with Student Services and the Proctor’s Office to audit the inclusive curriculum initiatives currently active across the University, with a focus on race and ethnicity. The audit will identify areas to improve and ensure all Schools remain abreast of sector best practice.

We are determined to encourage more BAME staff applicants; St Andrews was the only Scottish university to have advertised vacancies in various media publications including the Windrush Magazine (June 2018, June 2019), the Black History Month Magazine and website (October 2019) and the BAME Education and Careers Guide Magazine (November 2019). We are the first Scottish university to advertise academic staff recruitment adverts on the Black Female Professors Forum website. But applications also need to translate into appointments, and I acknowledge the need for us to make progress in this regard.

Since 2016, the University has supported staff to take part in the Advance HE Diversifying Leadership (BAME) programme. This is an external programme aimed at BAME early career academics and professional services staff below senior lecturer level or equivalent (typically for University staff grades 6 to 8) who would like to develop and explore issues relating to taking their first step into a leadership role.

In June 2018, we launched St Andrews’ Staff BAME Network. The purpose of the informal network, which is supported and fully funded by the University, is to provide: a confidential forum to share knowledge and good practice through networking; effective solutions in policy and planning development; events and initiatives to increase the positive profile of visible-BAME staff.

We have launched an online initiative promoting BAME staff and SRC members for Race profiles, and our Corporate Communication team is working with EDI colleagues to ensure events that BAME students may identify with, including celebrations of diversity, are showcased on our website and social media.

Externally, we are leading or prominently represented in race equality work nationally. At present, the University’s Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Sukhi Bains, chairs the Scottish Race Equality Network (SREN), which is a forum for sharing institutional best practice. In May 2019, the University became the first in the UK to become a signatory of The Prince’s Responsible Business Network’s Race at Work Charter.

Our Assistant Vice-Principal for Diversity is the institutional lead for a project between Advance HE and four other Scottish Universities, designed to support their progression to achieving the Race Equality Charter. I served last year on the advisory group for UUK’s major report on Closing the Gap: Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Student Attainment at UK Universities.

It is imperative that the process of change has our BAME students and staff at its heart, that we listen continually and closely to their experiences of life and study at St Andrews, and reflect our learning from these in the initiatives we undertake. I believe that at this time we have an additional and particular responsibility to listen to and work with our black students and staff.

Later this month Professor Ruth Woodfield, Jasmin Hinds and I will be taking part in a round table with many of our BAME students, and I am grateful to our Rector’s Assessor, Papa Obeng, for enabling this very helpful forum.

This report is only a snapshot of the work we are doing, and it is only a start, but I hope it has given you a sense of depth and momentum, and its centrality to what St Andrews, under my leadership, aspires to be.

Every one of the initiatives I have talked about here exists because we want to make a real difference to people’s lives. They are not optional.

Momentum can of course increase, as it can reduce. Each of us has a choice, to be a bystander, or an active participant in hastening positive and permanent change.

If you would like to contribute comments or ideas for addressing identified gaps, to highlight related activity you are undertaking or aware of, or to find out more about our diversity initiatives, please contact [email protected].

We know of course that your lives continue to be manifestly affected by the pandemic, wherever you are in the world just now, and as I have promised, we will be in touch with you all about our detailed plans and ideas for the start of the new academic year, the steps we are taking to restart our research, and how we will keep you all safe and supported.

That is likely to be shortly after 18 June, when the Scottish First Minister has set out her government’s intentions for the management of the next phase of lockdown.

Professor Sally Mapstone
Principal and Vice-Chancellor

Category Message from the Principal

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