Formal Equality, Legal Compliance and the TEF: Impetus for Change?
This research builds on a previous paper which explored the politics and perspectives of various social actors regarding anti-discrimination legislation and equality within a higher education setting. Using Critical Race Theory (CRT) as a theoretical basis, this paper discusses the impact of the politics and perceptions on compliance with legislative requirements as reflected through the equality processes within a case study institution. The question is, does the tendency towards adopting the formal equality stance also impact on the case study’s equality processes and, in turn, their response to the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED)? In addition, this paper will explore the implications of the approaches to equality and the PSED for the TEF, given the clear need to take into account the experiences of students with protected characteristics. The commitment of senior management in advancing the equality agenda within higher education was highlighted as significant in previous research. Conclusions which were drawn were that managers, as well as some other members of staff within a case study, viewed equality along formal lines. This meant that, along with a perception that there were no equality issues which needed to be dealt with, they were less likely to ‘see’ the problems relating to discrimination within the case study. This was particularly the case where there were instances of institutional discrimination, as highlighted by the experiences of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) and disabled staff and students. There was a steady deterioration over the period covered by this paper in the fulfilment of the statutory requirements. In addition to this decline was a parallel deterioration in the processes at the case study institution which were established to manage equality. Deterioration in relation to compliance with the PSEDs and the decline in processes was not coincidental. The reduction in the processes to deal with equality was reflective of the priority which it was given by management. Given the formal equality stance and the view that HEIs do well in this area, there was no imperative to maintain the equality structures which provided the means with which to address some of the institutional barriers faced by BME and disabled staff and students. The formal equality stance is prevalent. The institutional barriers are not seen by those tasked with implementing the PSEDs because a substantive approach is not adopted. The processes which were established which had the potential of dealing with substantive equality issues were eroded and eventually disappeared altogether. This therefore means that there is no action to address substantive inequalities. Concepts coined by CRT are useful in explaining the inaction and decline of the institutional processes with regards to equality at the case study institution. The situation is unlikely to improve whilst the external pressures on institutions decline further. However, this paper will discuss the role of the TEF and whether the need for institutions to consider the whole student journey in relation to the various protected characteristics could provide the impetus needed for institutions to demonstrate their commitment to equality.
Citation : Crofts, M. (2018) Formal Equality, Legal Compliance and the TEF: Impetus for Change? Association of Law Teachers Conference, University of Keele, March 2018.
- Department of Law