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An exploration of existing statistical data relating to staff equality in UK higher education

Commissioned by BERA, we undertook a study for the purpose of providing an evidence-base about the impact of social determinates on access to, and conditions of, employment for academics in the discipline of education in UK higher education. The report drew from an analysis of statistical data curated by the Higher Education Statistical Agency (HESA) from the period of 2015-2020. Five of the socio-demographics studied were selected from the nine supposedly protected ‘characteristics’ of the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty in England, Scotland and Wales; and The Fair Employment and Treatment Order 1998 in Northern Ireland. They were age, sex, ethnicity, disability and religious beliefs, to which we added the study of nationality.

The findings provide clear indications of which inequalities were consistent in that period across the UK; and the differences that existed between the devolved nations of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Cognisant of critiques that comparisons between the devolved nations do not recognise their contextual histories, populations, legislation, size et cetera; comparisons were also drawn within each of those contexts, between the Education staff composition and that of the whole staff composition in the HE sector. This approach was settled upon in the absence of recognised, agreed upon targets for the achievement of equality in the UK.

The researchers will utilize this opportunity to focus discussion on the most concerning findings of inequality in the discipline, and further research of priority. This is in the hopes of deepening the discussion and the action undertaken towards addressing inequality, when engaging with the informed audience. Audience members would have had opportunity to access the methodology, findings, discussion and recommendations of this study (Belluigi et al 2023). It was published in January 2023 as an open access publication by the British Educational Research Association. An overview and key findings on sex, ethnicity and nationality were presented orally to members of the learned society at their annual conference in September 2022 (Belluigi et al, 2022), in addition to a range of other means of dissemination.

As such, the presentation will be arranged in two parts, with a discussion of:
(i) exclusion, marginalization and disadvantage in the discipline of education in UK higher education;
(ii) recommendations for further research, informed by the prioritization of addressing the inequalities observed from this study; by the limitations of the study; and by that which has been under-researched about Education in UK higher education.

The session has been purposefully designed with as much time for discussion as there is for the presentation. The researchers thus welcome audience members’ sharing of their own deliberations, insights and experiences as part of the discipline of Education and/ or as researchers of higher education.


Profile picture of Dina Belluigi
Dina Belluigi, Professor

Professor at Queen's University Belfast

Dina researches and teaches critical Higher Education Studies. A primary interest in her work are the conditions for the development of critical consciousness in those who represent and commemorate knowledge and knowing, particularly academics...

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Jason Arday, Professor

Professor of Sociology of Education at Glasgow University

Jason Arday, PhD is Professor of Sociology of Education at the University of Glasgow, School of Education, College of Social Sciences. Previously, Professor Arday was Associate Professor in Sociology at Durham University in the Department of...

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Joanne O’Keeffe, Dr

Researcher at Queen's University Belfast

Dr Joanne O’Keeffe is a Researcher in the School of Social Sciences Education and Social Work at Queen’s University Belfast. Joanne’s work is driven by her interest in addressing discrepancies and gaps in education in relation to mental...