Credit: Katie McCollum

Less than 1 in 5 staff at UofG complete anti-racism training

By Niamh Flanagan

An investigation by The Glasgow Guardian has found that less than 1 in 5 University of Glasgow staff have undertaken the “Let’s Talk About Race in the Workplace” racial sensitivity and cultural awareness training that was made available in response to the 2021 “Understanding Racism, Transforming University Cultures” report, which that found over half of non-white students surveyed had experienced multiple incidents of racism at the University. The same investigation has also revealed that whilst the proportion of staff employed on fixed term contracts has decreased, the percentage of that figure from ethnic minorities has increased since the publication of the report in 2021, which at the time indicated a prevalence of insecure employment contracts amongst non-white staff members. 

In February 2021, the University of Glasgow published the Understanding Racism, Transforming University Cultures report and subsequent action plan, following a 2019 report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission that warned of widespread racial harassment on university campuses across the UK. 

The 2021 report was based on around 500 survey responses from students from ethnic minorities, and drew on twenty in-depth interviews with staff from ethnic minorities about their time studying and working at the University, and their experiences of racism. 

Significantly, the report found that half of surveyed ethnic minority students experienced racial harassment 2 to 5 times, and 1 in 20 of those students experienced more than 20 incidents. Ethnic minority staff reported experiencing coded forms of racism and considerable resultant impacts on their physical and mental health. For those that reported experiences of harassment or discrimination, there was a common reluctance to report such incidents due to a lack of confidence in the nature of the response that would be given by the University, and a fear of potential reprisals. Other key findings included a 10% degree awarding gap and a higher prevalence of fixed term contracts among ethnic minority staff, as well as a lack of representation in key decision making bodies. 

In the immediate aftermath of the report’s publication, Principal Anton Muscatelli apologised for the detrimental impact on the wellbeing of staff and students who have faced racial harassment, and acknowledged the report was “unacceptable” for an institution that “prides itself on its values and reputation”. Co-author of the report and co-convenor of the Race Equality Group, Professor Satnam Virdee, commented that he was “pleased the leadership team at the University have pledged to work through the comprehensive action plan set out in the report and introduce mechanisms and measures that will tackle both structural disadvantage and interpersonal racism”. Bonnie Dean, co-convenor of the Race Equality Group from 2018-2021, responded to say “we are committed to undertaking the extensive and long-term actions within our Action Plan to ensure ongoing and genuine progress is made”. Recommended actions included in the initial report consisted of the development of a code of conduct designed to set expectations of behaviour of staff and students with regard to race, public support for an anti-racist approach, publication of anti racist objectives, a strategic branding campaign supporting diversity in recruitment, and additional resource support provided to help enact these requirements. 

In April 2022, an event was held by the University to mark the first anniversary of the report’s publication, showcasing work done on the setting up of a staff network, co-creation of an anti-racist campaign, and the creation of a decolonising the curriculum community of practice. In 2023, the University disclosed further progress, including a public commitment from the senior management group to taking an anti-racist approach to University processes and systems, promoting a zero-tolerance policy, launch of a racial equality campaign on campus, and the delivery of further anti racism and cultural awareness training, which was made available to all staff. 

Information provided to The Glasgow Guardian via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request indicates that as of October 2023, only 18.8% of the University’s staff headcount had completed the ‘Let’s Talk About Race in the Workplace’ training – of this figure, 77.5% were white. 

According to the same FOI response, in August 2021, the year of the report’s publication, which found that a disproportionate amount of minority ethnic staff were employed on fixed term contracts, 31.6% of the University’s entire faculty were employed on a fixed-term, or casualised basis. Of this number, 10.4% were from minority ethnic backgrounds. In August 2022, the percentage of the entire faculty on fixed term contracts decreased to 31.1%, however the percentage of this figure from minority ethnic backgrounds increased to 15%. In August 2023, the latest available data, the percentage of the total faculty on FTCs had decreased further to 29.3%, whilst the percentage of this figure from minority ethnic backgrounds had once more increased, to 25.2% – a 15 percentage point increase since the publication of the report. 

Iris Duane, a third-year politics student at UofG, told The Glasgow Guardian: “This is disappointing but not at all surprising. As any student of colour at the University of Glasgow can tell you, the university isn’t the most welcoming place. I’m sad to see this reflected in the staff structures of the university but I did not expect anything different. If the university truly wants to create an anti racist environment then they need to commit to substantial change, not just doing things that can be put in an Instagram infographic. I hope things do get better, but as it stands it doesn’t seem like that will be because of them.”

The University also provided The Glasgow Guardian with a statement in relation to this data – “The University is strongly committed to providing a working environment where all staff feel valued and are treated fairly and with respect. In partnership with trade union colleagues, the University has been working for a considerable period of time to ensure that all staff are employed on responsible contractual arrangements. The University continues to work with trade union colleagues to protect jobs and livelihoods and to minimise the use of fixed term contracts across our workforce. This can prove extremely challenging for the University’s research staff cohort as research is often externally funded by research grant awarding bodies on a fixed term basis. The University works hard to minimise the impact that this can have on our workforce, and we are currently successful at redeploying approximately 70% of staff at risk of redundancy. ‘Compulsory redundancy’ includes staff on open-ended (permanent) fixed funding contracts that are linked to research grants.”

A University spokesperson commented on our recent findings:“Harassment of any kind is not tolerated at the University; the safety and security of our students and colleagues is our top priority.The University is strongly committed to providing a working environment where all staff feel valued and are treated fairly and with respect. In partnership with trade union colleagues, the University has been working for a considerable period of time to ensure that all staff are employed on responsible contractual arrangements.”

Over half of the initial respondents (500 were surveyed) in 2021 reported experiences of racial harassment, and a common theme of under-reporting was identified by virtue of fear of reprisals and concern of what responses would be received. As of October 2023, eight incidents relating to racism have been reported by staff to the University’s People and Organisational development team since the publication of the initial report, 9 reports relating to racism have been made by students to the University’s Student Conduct team, and the University’s Complaints Resolution Office have received 12 complaints relating to racism, all made by students.


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