The number of black academics working in the most senior positions in UK universities has fallen to just a handful at most.
New data published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) shows the number holding top academic roles has officially dropped to zero.
Due to the way the statistics are rounded, it is understood this means between zero and two people from black backgrounds were recorded as working as academic “managers, directors and senior officials” in 2018/19.
The year before, (2017/18), HESA data recorded five black academics in the most senior roles, which is understood to mean there were between three and seven.
Overall in 2018/19, there were 540 academics working in the top managerial jobs, and of these 475 were white.
A total of 15 were recorded as coming from an Asian background, five from a mixed background, and a further five from another background.
The ethnicity of the rest was not known.
Universities minister Chris Skidmore said: “It is unacceptable that the number of black academic staff in senior positions has fallen as this does not represent our British society.
“Universities need to make more progress and I urge all vice-chancellors to address the barriers that are holding back black and ethnic minority staff from senior positions.
“A true representation of Britain at the top levels of our universities will support the progression of BME staff, as well as improving students’ experience.”
The figures also show there were 11,860 people working in non-academic top jobs as managers, directors and senior officials at UK institutions in 2018/19.
Of these, the HESA data officially records 185 were black, 10,510 were white, 410 were Asian, 165 were from a mixed background, 50 were another ethnicity, and the ethnicity of the rest was not known.
HESA’s figures show that overall, there were 217,065 academics working at UK universities in 2018/19.
Of the 199,245 whose ethnicity was known, 83% were from a white background and 10% were Asian, while academics from black, mixed and other backgrounds each made up 2%.
A Universities UK spokesperson said: “Universities have a vital role to promote an inclusive environment in which students and staff of all backgrounds and ethnicities can flourish.
“The evidence is clear that black and minority ethnic staff continue to be underrepresented at academic levels in higher education and it is crucial that the leadership of every university takes steps to identify and address the underlying cultural issues and commit to taking action.
“UUK is working with Advance HE to encourage universities to sign up to the Race Equality Charter and drive long-term cultural change at institutions.”
Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “These figures confirm the lack of representation of black and minority ethnic staff at the top table in our universities.
“It is going to take systematic change and some difficult conversations if we are going to make any headway.
“Universities’ failings on equality when it comes to representation and pay are one of the reasons staff have been forced into strike action recently. Universities need to work with us to address the issue and recognise that they will need to transform their practices to implement real change for BME staff.”