Ethnic minorities in higher education more likely to be on lower pay

HEA survey finds high percentage of black and Asian staff earn less than €60k

While full-time staff are overwhelmingly white Irish in many higher education institutions, their student bodies are much more diverse. Photograph: iStock

Higher education staff from ethnic minorities are much more likely to earn significantly less and be on precarious contracts compared to others, new research show.

The findings are contained in the first ever race equality survey of more than 3,000 staff carried out by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) in universities, colleges and institutes of technology.

It shows there was a significant difference between the percentage of staff from minority ethnic groups such as Asians or black Africans earning less than €60,000 a year (77 per cent ) compared to white Irish (45 per cent).

Among high earners, the percentage of people earning over €75,000 was lowest among minority ethnic groups (17 per cent) and highest among white Irish (38 per cent).


There is also a high level of “segregation” reported between full-time staff and staff on precarious contracts, the latter being much more likely to be from minority ethnic groups.

While full-time staff are overwhelmingly white Irish in many higher education institutions, their student bodies are much more diverse.

The findings are potentially significant for colleges on a financial basis, given that future research funding for colleges will be influenced by progress on race equality.

The survey was conducted in late 2020/early 2021 with the aim of capturing the lived experience of higher education staff in relation to race equality.

For the purpose of the survey, race equality was defined as “equal representation, equal experiences and equal outcomes of staff from minority ethnic groups.”

General population

The ethnic demographics of respondents was broadly in line with Central Statistics Office (CSO) data on the general population which indicates that about 10 per cent of the population is non-white.

However, minority ethnic staff are significantly under-represented in senior positions.

Overall, the survey indicates that experiences of collegiality in Irish colleges are generally positive across all ethnic groups.

However, across all groups, a majority agreed with the statement that “race inequality exists in Irish higher education”.

The report found that while there was awareness of policies on race and ethnicity, respondents said these were often less visible and there was a much greater focus on gender.

It highlights the “critical need” for senior management to take on a leadership role in improving race equality in higher education.

The report says it is vital that colleges ensure steps are taken to ensure candidates from minority ethnic groups are supported to apply for and be successful in the recruitment processes to vacancies.

Respondents across all groups described reporting and witnessing racial or ethnic discrimination against minority ethnic staff.

Across all groups, many respondents highlighted that they were unaware of any policies or guidelines to support reporting discrimination.

Some participants complained that the mechanisms to tackle this were ineffective and inefficient in finding the solution to the problem of racism in the workplace.

Most critical

Senior leadership in colleges were most commonly identified as the group most critical to the process of improving race equality in higher education.

HEA chief executive Dr Alan Wall said the report was timely as higher education institutions begin to address issues of ethnic or racial discrimination that exist on our campuses.

“Higher education has a role in impacting wider society, and there is now an opportunity for senior figures in the sector to take on a leadership role and act as exemplars as we begin to discuss these issues as a nation,” he said.

The largest group of respondents (72 per cent) described their ethnicity as white Irish or white other (17.5 per cent). A further 9 per cent described themselves using other ethnic categories including Asian, Arabic and black African, among others.

The HEA has a legal obligation under the Higher Education Act (1971) to promote equality in the higher education sector.

In response to the findings, the Irish Universities Association said they provide a basis for universities to further develop policies and actions to address race inequality in higher education.

This week, for example, the association said it is rolling out an online training programme on race awareness.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent