Acknowledging our history

20 April 2021

I wanted to be Vice-Chancellor at London Met because of the University’s long-standing commitment to social change and its local communities. Over the past 18 months Black and minoritised staff and students have fed into the development of our new Race Equity Strategic Plan, a plan that I am incredibly proud to sponsor. In January 2021 we published a report into Islamophobia at London Met and further research is taking place into the experiences of Black and minoritised staff career progression. Listening and learning exercises have been a fundamental part of the way our senior team has worked for the past two years and, during the wave of Black Lives Matter protests in summer 2020, I met with Black staff and students to hear their own experiences. 

Those powerful events, in addition to the decision to remove the Cass name from the School of Art, Architecture and Design, gave individuals confidence to come forward and share their experiences of racism within two schools at the University. I am extremely grateful for those important contributions from members of our community. We can only address the complex and insidious challenge of racial discrimination if we are open and transparent about how it operates within our organisations. To this end, we commissioned an independent investigation into institutional racism within the two schools of Social Sciences and Social Professions in 2020. The summary of the report, which protects the identities of those who came forward, is provided below.

The recent Sewell Report, which denied the existence of institutional racism in this country, rightly drew criticism and caused deep offence. Institutional racism manifests in our public institutions and every UK university – we cannot make change without acknowledging this fact. As someone who works on this agenda with colleagues across the higher education sector, I’m conscious that the sector as a whole has not done enough to tackle deep rooted racial discrimination. The conclusions of this independent investigation reflect sector-wide trends, however that does not diminish our responsibility to tackle and eradicate racism at London Met. The findings are unacceptable and the behaviours detailed in the report have no place at our University. Having taken many actions to drive positive change since this investigation began, you have my personal and on-going commitment that we will continue to tackle institutional racism, ensuring that our community is safe and inclusive for everyone.

Professor Lynn Dobbs – Vice-Chancellor

Report summary

1.1 This report summarises the evidence and findings of the review undertaken in 2020 by Anita Davies, Director of In2People, into a number of historical allegations of racism from staff, as well as current and former students, relating to practices and behaviours within the schools of Social Sciences and Social Professions at London Metropolitan University (London Met). The review considered whether the schools as a whole, or in parts, were institutionally racist.

1.2 For the purposes of the review, institutional racism is understood as those set out by the Macpherson report (1999).

1.3 As well as examining whether the schools were following the procedures in place for handling incidents of racism, the review paid attention to covert and subtle forms of racism. By this, we mean slights, comments, looks or forms of treatment that serve to subjugate the experiences, views or knowledge of people of colour or disadvantage people of colour.

1.4 In conducting its original review, In2People:

  • Reviewed quantitative data about the University, the schools, staff and students provided by the University.
  • Conducted semi-structured video and telephone interviews with students and staff who had previously complained about racism at London Met.
  • Spoke to 43 students, academics, professional and support staff, facilitated by the University, as part of an ‘open offer’ to understand the lived experiences of those studying or working at London Met. Some of these contributors spoke openly, while others – fearful of the consequences – did so under the condition of anonymity.
  • Reviewed HR policies and procedures, and examined equality plans and strategies.
  • Spoke with and analysed information provided by the Centre for Equity and Inclusion.
  • Reviewed contributions from UCU, the Students' Union, the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Staff Voice Network and the Postgraduate Research Society.

1.5 Following presentation of the review in December 2020, the University has asked In2People to produce a summary of its original report. It was asked that we remove quotes, case studies and other comments provided by students and staff, which could identify them. It also summarises some of the detailed evidence and data which was presented alongside the full report. It does, however, retain the findings and recommendations in full and, we believe, conveys the spirit of the original review report. 

    2.1 2020 was a tumultuous year for issues of race and equality. The murder of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis USA last May sparked world-wide protests in response to the injustices that Black people experience. The impact of Covid-19 has shown starkly how inequalities in health and life circumstances continue to disproportionately impact on Black communities.

    2.2 Recognition of these issues, and how Black communities continue to suffer racial disadvantage in all walks of life, has been driven by the wider Black Lives Matter movement. The movement has given direction to communities around the world to challenge government, businesses and institutions to tackle the systemic practices which continue to discriminate against the Black community. From the removal of statues of slave profiteers to the projection of Black role models, a powerful message has been sent that discrimination must be tolerated no longer.

    2.3 Universities and colleges have been at the centre of much of the debate, as academics and students have criticised their own establishments for failing the Black community. In the UK, in July 2020, in an open letter to the Secretary of State for Education, more than 300 academics and students criticised universities for their poor record on tackling institutional racism1 and the significant degree awarding gap between Black students and their White counterparts. This awarding gap in UK universities was exposed starkly in #closingthegap, a joint report by Universities UK and the National Union of Students.2 It showed that across the board Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic3 students suffered an average awarding gap of 13 per cent.4

    2.4 But it is not just students who suffer from racial injustice in universities. Across the sector Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff are under-represented in both senior academic and university leadership roles, and typically are paid less or on less-secure contracts. This has been highlighted in recent sector publications including those by Universities UK and Advance HE.

    2.5 The experiences of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff and students in higher education has also been covered in comprehensive detail by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission in its reports in 2019.5

    2.6 Most recently, Universities UK followed up its joint report from last year with a new set of recommendations that aim to decisively tackle institutional racism in higher education.6

    2.7 London Met has one of the highest proportions of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students at any university in the country. Operating from its main campuses in some of the most ethnically diverse areas of London (Holloway and Aldgate), London Met teaches approximately 10,000 students from 140 different countries. 63 per cent come from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic background. It describes itself as one of the most socially inclusive universities in the sector and takes pride in its strong history of widening participation for students to undertake higher education study.7

    2.8 Yet the awarding gap between Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic and White students is 20.6 percentage points8 across the curricula, despite improvement over the last five years. Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic senior academic staff account for less than 22 per cent of the senior academic workforce.9

    2.9 Over the last two years London Met, under a new leadership team, has made plain its commitment to reshaping the University so that all its students, and those who work for it, have the opportunity to succeed. In June, the University published its own message of solidarity to Black Lives Matter and set out its commitment to addressing inequality within the University,10 and took the decision to remove the name of Sir John Cass from the School of Art, Architecture and Design in acknowledgement of his role in the slave trade.

    2.10 Under the sponsorship of the Vice-Chancellor, the University began work in September 2019 to develop a Race Equity Strategic Plan. The strategy, which was formally published in March 2021, introduces a plan for holistic change across the institution backed by a significant resource commitment of £15 million. Key commitments include diversifying the curriculum, rolling out extensive inclusivity training for all staff as well as tackling the degree awarding gap through new Teaching and Learning strategies which include the adoption of the Value-Added score. The Value-Added score helps aid conversations around the causes of the awarding gap, demonstrating the centrality of race as the biggest determinant of outcomes. Additionally, the University’s strategic plan which was developed in late 2019, includes hard targets to achieve 55% ethnic diversity at Board and every level of the academic pipeline by 2025. A full list of the University’s commitments is set out in paragraph 22 of this summary.

    1. Open letter to address racial justice in higher education
    2. Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic student attainment at UK universities: #closingthegap. Published by Universities UK and the National Union of Students in May 2019.
    3. We acknowledge the challenges in using homogenising language, such as Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic, and where possible, ethnicities have been disaggregated into smaller groups.
    4. #closingthegap – Executive Summary
    5. Tackling racial harassment: Universities challenged by The Equalities and Human Rights Commission, October 2019.
    6. Tackling racial harassment in higher education, Universities, UK November 2020
    7. See Transparency Return
    8. Awarding gap is measured as the difference between White students achieving a first or upper second degree, compared to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students. The data is accurate for 2018/19 and is provided by the University’s Centre for Equity and Inclusion.
    9. Taken from table 12, 2018/19 academic year, Athena Swan staff tables. Based on aggregating Senior, Prof/Head of Sub and PL/AL/Reader rows.
    10. Black Lives Matter news article

      3.1 In this section we outline the observations we provided in our review.

      3.2 Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Academics in the two schools:

      • Academic staff in the two schools were not representative of the students they educate: Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic lecturers make up less than a third of the academic workforce in the two schools, and far fewer at the most senior grades. This provides challenges when the student body comprises a large number of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students, not least a perception that the academic body in the two schools lacks cultural awareness. A lack of representation also presents a failure to offer up positive Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic role models.
      • The lived experiences of a number of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic academic staff reinforced this, not least a feeling that they were perceived as only fit for the most junior lecturing roles or non-contracted roles. The staff survey clearly reveals concerns Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff have that they were insufficiently rewarded.
      • A number of the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic academics we spoke to in the two schools believed they were unlikely to be offered development opportunities even when as equally qualified as their White counterparts and had barriers placed in the way of their progression. For some there was a perception that cliques and networks existed to which they were excluded, and that patronage rewarded their White peers and disadvantaged them. It is a fact that neither school has a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic professor.
      • A number of the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic academic staff in the two schools also experienced direct discrimination and ‘micro-aggressions’ from fellow academics and senior managers, reinforcing a perception that they were not treated with the respect afforded to their White peers.
      • The data also showed that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff were overrepresented in disciplinary matters and more likely than their White peers to raise a grievance.

      3.3 It is important at this stage to highlight the facts that we know about academic life at London Met:

      • There is a significant academic awarding gap in the University and within the two schools we were asked to review.
      • The introduction in 2020 of the Value-Added score to explore the degree awarding gap has enabled a more detailed analysis of differential outcomes between student groups and has particularly highlighted the significant disparity between Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic and White students’ degree classifications.
      • Although historically the entry qualification, subject of study and social class of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students has been used to explain away the existence and persistence of the awarding gap across the sector, it is clear from the Value-Added data that these explanations do not hold true. Any difference in these measures for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students account for only two to three percentage points of the 20.6 percentage point gap in 2018/19.
      • We know that Black African students are almost twice as likely as any other ethnic group to go through the academic misconduct proceedings, and White students almost half as likely as any of their Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic peers. Both the schools in question have substantially higher rates of students accused of academic misconduct as other schools at the University.
      • Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students are generally more dissatisfied with the University than their White counterparts.

      3.4 Observations from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Students in the two schools:

      • There was a belief amongst some a number of Black students in the two schools that some lecturers were less supportive and had lower expectations of them in comparison to their White counterparts. They did not have confidence in the anonymity of marking and believed prejudice or unconscious bias was leading to poor grades.
      • It was a consistent theme amongst Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students in the two schools we engaged with that the pastoral support available to them was considered to be insufficient with very little opportunity for individualised attention and guidance.
      • Academic misconduct cases have disproportionately impacted on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students in the two schools, and specifically Black African students. A number of students believed that their claims of mitigation were ignored, which inevitably led to a higher proportion of Black African students making academic appeals.
      • A number of students in the two schools complained that the complaints process was unwieldy, too long, and perceived to be unfair. They had no confidence that their complaints about racism and racist behaviour would be addressed.
      • A number of the students in the two schools felt that racist incidents and micro-aggressions in the classroom were overlooked and were not confident that their lecturers were equipped to deal with these issues.
      • A number of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic postgraduate students in the two schools had a perception that their research fields were seen as less ‘valid’ than their White peers; they were often instructed to change their research proposals several times; took longer than their White peers to complete their PhD; and once qualified, they felt that there was little recognition internally for their achievements.

      4.1 Our review highlighted a range of salient issues and a broad array of perspectives. Our findings showed that there is undeniably a concern in the two schools about unfair institutional processes and practices that serve to create a disparity in outcomes for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff and students, in some areas of their employment, career advancement or academic achievement at London Met.

      4.2 In our review we made a number of recommendations that were intended to explore ways of addressing, in a purposeful yet supportive manner, the dynamics around institutional racism in the two schools that formed the focus of the review. These were designed to support the measures that have already being put in place under the leadership of Vice-Chancellor Professor Lynn Dobbs.

        5.1 Whilst our review only considered two schools, we recommended that the senior leadership team adopted a holistic and systems-based approach which recognised that institutional racism was embedded in the system, structures, and processes of the whole organisation and that all aspects of university life must be reviewed and unfair practices rooted out.

        5.2 We recommended:

        1. The need to institutionalise good practice and ensure a supportive working and teaching environment where negative qualities like unconscious bias and racism are not allowed to thrive. This is a challenge facing all universities.

        2. The need for managers to embrace an authentic empathetic leadership approach which moves towards more purposeful engagement by listening to and acting on the experiences of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff and students from across the institution as a whole.

        3. Senior management teams and governing bodies must have procedures in place to satisfy themselves that the London Met is meeting its obligations in relation to race equality.

        4. London Met must encourage open and safe discussions about race and racism in order to better understand the impact of discrimination and disadvantage.

        5. Continue to provide ED&I training (from an anti-racist perspective) so that decision-makers and staff understand the insidious nature of institutional racism, micro-aggressions, unconscious bias and harassment and how they manifest in day-to-day decision-making.

        6. Ensure that academic staff have the necessary training and support to discuss race issues more sensitively in the lecture theatre and in seminars, given the experiences students have reported, within the context of their subject area.

        7. To improve the monitoring, recording and classification of student ethnicity to ensure that any measures adopted are relevant for the particular target group.

        8. To take disciplinary action where necessary when staff breach the University’s Equality and Diversity policy.

        Responding to the concerns of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic academic and professional and support staff in the two schools, specifically:

        9. Senior management must set purposeful annual targets to increase Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic representation at all levels and be accountable for ensuring that these targets are met.

        10. Monitor and report to the Board on the take-up of schemes designed to improve the representation of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic academic and professional services and support staff at senior levels.

        11. Be ambitious when developing positive action measures to improve the representation of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic academic and support staff in the workplace.

        12. London Met should continue with routine ‘listening and learning exercise’ which considers the extent of the micro-aggressions and racism that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic lecturers face in the workplace and how the University deals with such incidents, including monitoring their occurrence across all schools in order to determine and address patterns and assess the impact of mitigation measures.

        13. Introduce a reverse appraisal scheme so that staff have a mechanism to provide feedback to their managers.

        14. Produce and implement clear guidelines on authorship on publications which represents all contributors regardless of ethnicity.

        15. Diversity needs to be actively valued and promoted by managers, and race equality work should be a condition for any promotion.

        16. Conduct an Equality Impact Assessment of the various contracts of employment.

        17. For academics to feel empowered and confident enough to use their platform to challenge structural inequality in the classroom and wider working environment.

        18. Discuss the findings of this review with staff in the two departments and wider School and discuss next steps.

        Responding to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic student concerns; support and progression within the two schools:

        19. London Met needs to review, with the aim of simplifying, its student complaints process (if it has not done so already). This should cover both formal and informal complaints as well as those made by people wishing to remain anonymous. There should be a specific procedure to deal with discrimination cases.

        20. If a student makes a complaint about a lecturer – even an informal one – the student must be kept informed of developments, action taken, and when the case is closed.

        21. Similarly, the time taken to resolve academic misconduct complaints appears to leave students in a state of limbo for weeks; the process should be reviewed to streamline decision-making and/or the student must be kept better informed of developments and action taken/required at all stages of the process.

        22. More fundamentally, the University should review the academic misconduct policy.

        23. Review how plagiarism is assessed and managed within the schools.

        24. Stronger management and policing of anonymised marking must be implemented and clearly communicated to students.

        25. Review support structures and pastoral care provision.

        26. To ensure that adequate resources and support is available to students with additional or special needs in a timely manner to enable them to achieve their full potential.

        27. Strengthen the academic support in place for students on the foundation programme.

        28. For the senior management team to take part in reverse mentoring with students to share perspectives and learning opportunities.

        29. Improve the decision making at hearings / appeal hearings by ensuring that there is at least one independent panel member and that the panel are ethnically diverse.

        30. Share the contents of the review with the Students’ Union in order to facilitate a platform for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students to not only speak openly about their experiences but provide insights on lessons to be learned.

        31. Benchmark progress on race equality with a similar university and share and learn from good practice within the sector.

        London Met's approach to tackling the challenges facing Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic academics and students

        6.1 At the conclusion of the review, London Met set out a number of actions that it had, or would be taking, to tackle the issues set out in our report. These actions have been in development since late 2019 and are being overseen by Dr Zainab Khan, London Met’s Pro Vice-Chancellor, Teaching and Learning, and Director of the Centre of Equity and Inclusion. The University has recently published a major Race Equity Strategic Plan which sets out the following commitments:

        6.2 Investment

        1. Ensuring anti-racism and race equality work is properly resourced and acknowledged within promotion criteria.

        2. £15 million investment to delivering the targets set out in the race equity strategy between 2020/21 – 2024/25.

        6.3 Research and expertise

        1. Build a team of race equity experts.

        2. Invest in research studies into race and racialisation within the University in order to respond to the challenges that exist. 

        6.4 Good governance

        1. Root and branch review of all policies and hiring processes.

        2. Established KPIs at Board level to address the awarding gap and achieve the Race Equality Chartermark.

        3. Enhancing our complaints process and misconduct investigations, including more robust race equality training for investigators.

        4. Ensure procurement supports the University’s values.

        5. Gathering better data on race as it relates to the workforce.

        6. Achieving Race Equality Chartermark status.

        7. Achieving 55% Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic representation at Board level and in associated committees.

        6.5 Culture change

        1. Launched Inclusive Leadership training for all senior management (January 2020).

        2. Developing a Professional Behaviours Framework which will set standards for inclusive behaviours.

        3. Piloting the Inclusive Behaviours Staff Development Programme in January 2021 with full University roll-out from summer 2021 which includes anti-racism, whiteness and privilege awareness training.

        4. Additional anti-racism training for key groups including managers.

        5. Creating more opportunities for conversations on race and racism through Critical Conversations Café series (launched October 2020).

        6. Launched Decolonising Met Working Group to decolonise practice, provision and processes (July 2020).

        7. Launched inclusive student campaigns to address harassment and hate.

        8. Invested in bespoke wellbeing programmes from ethnic minority students.

        9. Supporting Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Staff Voice Network.

        10. Launch of BH365 to celebrate Black identity and culture 365 days of the year (October 2020).

        6.6 Equity in education

        1. Piloting the Education for Social Justice Framework (October 2020) which is designed to address the awarding gap by changing curricula and pedagogy by embedding critical race theory in courses. Full University roll-out by September 2022.

        2. Working in partnership with the SU to ensure that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students feed into and co-create all decisions in relation to this agenda.

        3. Development of Black studies modules and programmes (spring 2022).

        4. Reducing the degree awarding gap to 10% by 2025.

        6.7 Fixing the pipeline

        1. Adopting the recommendations of the Race in the Workplace Review for recruitment and selection processes.

        2. Introduced compulsory diversity statements and standard interview questions which assess candidates’ capability to work in a multicultural organisation for all appointments to the University.

        3. Taking positive action to diversify the academic staff base and senior management team to 55% Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff.

        4. Launching a major initiative to hire more Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic talent (spring 2021).

        5. Launched North London Leadership Programme with City University (mentoring programme for future Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic leaders).

        This report was produced by: