Higher Education and Research Bill: Archbishop of York supports amendment on improving diversity in universities

On the 23rd January 2017, Lord Addington moved an amendment to the Government’s Higher Education and Research Bill during its Committee stage, about access to advice about improving the diversity of university student populations. The Archbishop of York, the Most Rev. and Rt. Hon Dr. John Sentamu, spoke in support of the amendment, which was debated but not put to a vote:

york-170117-cThe Archbishop of York: My Lords, the amendment is asking the bodies concerned to seek advice from the commission and those who advise that tells them it would be good to do it this way. Because of its permissive nature, I hope the Minister will see this as helping. As somebody from a minority ethnic group, I have always benefited from the human rights commission. The advice that I have just mentioned is not intrusive; it is a good thing. Universities should hold before themselves, in all their aspects, a mirror, to see whether their leadership, in different places, reflects the nature of the university. Noble Lords know that the Church of England has finally overcome the question of women as bishops in the representative route, but we still have a big job in terms of minority ethnic bodies. Given what was said in the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, I feel it is quite appropriate. However good they are, institutions need to be aware that, within their set-up, they could unwittingly be discriminating against people. The amendment, which is permissive and not difficult, simply asks for bodies to give advice to improve gender diversity as well as ethnic groups. I hope we all would say that that is good advice.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: Amendment 226, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, seeks to specify that governing bodies of institutions may take advice from bodies nominated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in developing the content of their access and participation plans. I support the intention here. We expect higher education providers to consult to help ensure that their access and participation plans are robust. I listened carefully to the sobering anecdote about a student experience from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. This is the very issue for which we are seeking solutions. We are in agreement about that. Indeed, OFFA currently sets out its expectation that universities consult students in preparing access agreements, and we anticipate that this will continue for access and participation plans. Given the autonomy of institutions and the wide-ranging support already available—for example, the Equality Challenge Unit supports the sector to advance equality and diversity for staff and students—I believe it is unnecessary to place this requirement in the Bill.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and thank the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York for pulling me up and reminding me about a bit of the amendment that I wrote myself, so I should have referred to it. I am glad to hear that the guidance is coming out. I have not received the letter yet, but it does not really matter. The fact that the guidance is coming is good. The fact that we have been waiting for it for this long is not. We are going to get it half way through an academic year, and in the vast majority of cases it will not be possible to implement it until next year. In certain cases, we are not preparing but patching up. We need to look at some of these issues in more detail. In fairness to the Minister, he was hearing about some of the specific points for the first time today. I look forward to arranging a meeting to see how this issue is progressing. I hope that bouncing between the Minister’s incredibly busy diary and my diary will be slightly more successful.

(via Parliament.uk)