Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) biennial conference18 November 2014
I’m writing this on my way back from the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) biennial conference, which this year took place in Liverpool (my home town as it happens). I’ve been a Board member of the ECU since 2008 and have managed to attend every conference so far. On every occasion I’ve learned something new and there are always inspiring contributions. I chaired a session in which Professor Julius Weinberg, Vice-Chancellor of Kingston University, and Professor Maggie Kinloch, Vice Principal of the Royal Scottish Conservatoire, talked about their experience of leading change to improve equality and encouraging greater diversity. Both of them were well received and provoked lots of questions; how do you handle the conflicts that often arise as diversity increases for example? Or how to counter the accusation that measures to improve equality means that the quality of people goes down because you’re no longer selecting on the basis of excellence. I was asked to join in answering these more general questions although I hadn’t given a presentation; I took advantage of the opportunity because I have strong views on these issues. My answer to that last question about selection criteria was that it’s obviously not the case. I don’t for a moment believe that the reason only 17% of vice-chancellors are women is because there are insufficient female candidates with the necessary qualities. Recent research shows that female candidates for vice-chancellorships do make the long list – so they are out there – but tend not to be shortlisted and are even more rarely appointed, even if they have had similar development opportunities to men. The argument that women haven’t reached the right standard or don’t have the right leadership qualities doesn’t stand up to a moment’s scrutiny. We do have a problem with equality and diversity in higher education so we might as well admit it. The gender pay gap stands at more than 12% for academics and more than 11% for colleagues not on academic contracts. That’s across the sector, not just Cardiff or Wales. This is why the Equality Challenge Unit exists. The heartening news is that the conference was incredibly well attended; in fact not everybody who wanted to come could be accommodated. The enthusiasm, commitment and level of expertise the participants displayed was extremely high. There were five or six vice-chancellors there; I do wish more senior university leaders would attend so they could see the passion for change that’s in their own institutions. I hope we will be able to achieve that for the next conference in two years’ time.