Equality and Diversity and the REF Panel Constitution

The REF panels were announced on Friday the 23rd of March. Very quickly and understandably, members raised questions and concerns about the underrepresentation of BAME colleagues on the Sociology and Social Policy and Social Work Panels. A significant number of sociologists are submitted to Social Policy and Social Work and the BSA did forward several nominations to the panel (as well as others). When the process of selecting panels for REF 2021 was put in place, HEFCE stressed the importance of equality and diversity in all aspects of the process, something the BSA welcomed. Nominating bodies were asked to ensure that equality and diversity issues were engaged with in their processes. The BSA did so by specifically asking for nominations from BAME members and other marginalised groups, and included a mandatory equality and diversity section in the nomination form. As a consequence, just over 10% of BSA nominations self-identified as BAME.

It is therefore concerning to see such low representation of BAME colleagues on both the Sociology and the Social Work and Social Policy sub panels. Only 5% (two) of the combined membership of the two sub panels are BAME and there is zero representation on the panels shaping the criteria. The criteria panel will play a significant role in setting the future direction of how panels will rate submissions; having no representation risks undermining people’s confidence in its decisions. In light of our and our members’ concerns we have written to HEFCE to ask them as a minimum to ensure this issue is addressed when further members are added to Panels in 2020. It would be helpful for people’s trust in the process to have this issue acknowledged now and to see a commitment from HEFCE to correcting the problem.

As members know, the BSA now has an Equality and Diversity committee looking at our own practices both internally and within the wider context of Sociology as a discipline, profession and research field. One part of that has been to undertake a survey of membership to get a better picture of our demographic. The survey, undertaken in December 2017, found that 15% of the BSA membership did not identify as white and 12% self-classified as BAME, and we expect that this is a good indication of the proportion of BAME individuals working within the discipline of sociology in the UK. In asking questions of the outcome of the appointment process at this stage, we also acknowledge our need to continue to work on our own processes and the way we support members from a range of marginalised backgrounds in both the association and in the challenges they face in higher education contexts.  This issue has also been raised in the pension dispute where UUK have been challenged about the implications of their proposed changes for women and others.

We invite members to send in their views on the questions raised in this article to the CEO: Judith.Mudd@britsoc.org.uk

Stevi Jackson
Janice McLaughlin
Nasar Meer
Henrietta O’Connor
Aaron Winter
Equality and Diversity Committee

Linda McKie
Public Engagement