Ground Breaking Race Equality Report on Higher Education in Ireland

Published 18 October 2021 by the Higher Education Authority (HEA)

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) today published its new report Race Equality in the Higher Education Sector, authored by Dr Marta Kempny and Dr Lucy Michael. This report captures, for the first time, quantitative and qualitative data on the race and ethnicity of higher education staff as well as their experiences at work.

The report is based on a survey taken by over 3000 staff in higher education institutions across Ireland during December and January. The aim of the survey was to capture the lived experience of HEI staff in relation to race equality. Participants described their experiences of reporting abuse, stereotyping, and at times, the lack of recognition for their work.

Key findings include:

  • More than one-third (35%) of minority ethnic third-level education staff say they have been subjected to racial or ethnic discrimination on campus.
  • Less than half of minority ethnic staff are on full-time contracts, compared to 38% of white Irish and 25% white other not on full time contracts.
  • Just over 17% of minority ethnic staff earn over €75,000, compared to 38% of white Irish and 25% of white other
  • Some 71% said they feel they are treated equally by their colleagues, irrespective of their background
  • 69% said they are treated equally by students, irrespective of their background
  • Few white staff have reported experiencing racial or ethnic discrimination, but all groups reported witnessing racial or ethnic discrimination against minority ethnic staff
  • More than half of respondents (52%) said they had never seen or heard the use of racist language on campus or online, while 27% said they rarely have seen such instances. However, staff across all ethnic groups described witnessing racial or ethnic discrimination against ethnic minority staff.

Recommendations are made in 8 key areas:

  1. Leadership
  2. Supporting Diversity in Staffing
  3. Making Race/Equality Policies Transparent
  4. Reporting Mechanisms
  5. Awareness and Training
  6. Fostering Diversity in HEIs
  7. Supporting Diversity in Student Recruitment
  8. Data Collection

The findings are potentially significant for colleges on a financial basis, given that future research funding for colleges will be influenced by progress on equality. In particular it will help us to understand and address the institutional policies, processes and practices which embed and reproduce inequalities between staff of different backgrounds.

In this way the HEA report is also an important educational resource in highlighting the fact that racism is not just about overtly racist actions, such as racial harassment and hate crime, which unfortunately are still a problem in our society.

Dr Ross Woods, the Senior Manager of the HEA Centre of Excellence for Equality, Diversity and inclusion, said: “Now that we have an evidence base, the HEA can work with institutions to prevent rather than react to problems in this area and to keep pace with wider demographic changes in Irish society.”

The full report is available at:

Dr Lucy Michael, report co-author, appeared on RTE Morning Ireland to launch the report. You can listen back at:

“Is racial discrimination a problem in our third level institutions?”, RTE Radio 1. Available at:

The report also featured on the front pages of the Irish Times, Irish Independent and Examiner. If you’ve missed the publications around the HEA Report and the responses to it, you can find some of the major headlines below:

The Irish Universities Association has welcomed the publication of the report.

“IUA welcomes publication of HEA Report on Race Equality in Higher Education as universities roll out ‘Let’s Talk About Race in the Higher Education Sector’”, Irish Universities Association. Available at: 



A quick look back… attitudes and racism in Northern Ireland

If you’ve missed the series of publications written for the ARK Research Centre of Queens University Belfast and Ulster University, you can review the most recent reports on attitudes to ethnic minorities, migrants and refugees here.

Irish Launch of new ENAR toolkit on computerised hiring and racial bias

It’s crucial that employers understand and are equipped to address bias in the software used for recruitment and human resource management.

In this new toolkit, we explore the role of human bias and structural discrimination in discriminatory or unethical AI programmes, and provide clear and practical steps to ensure companies have the necessary cultural and technological tools to responsibly digitalise HR systems with the help of intelligent systems.

All welcome to our launch, where we’ll address why it’s essential we tackle algorithmic bias, and how.

Thursday 1 July, 2 – 3.30pm, hosted by INAR – the Irish Network Against Racism

Register online at

Welcome to Dr Marta Kempny

We are delighted to have Dr Marta Kempny working with us on a new project on race equality in higher education this month. Dr Kempny, an anthropologist from Poland and Northern Ireland, previously worked with us on the UN CERD Civil Society Report in 2019, and on refugee integration research, and we are excited to have her collaboration on this new project.

Polish migrants in Belfast book

I first met Marta when Bryan Fanning and I were preparing the book Immigrants as Outsiders in the Two Irelands. We invited Marta, an expert on the experience of Polish migrants in Northern Ireland, to contribute her research to the book. Her insightful chapter, Polish spaces in a divided city, drew on ethnographic research to examine changing spatial knowledge, mobility and community resources amongst this migrant group over a decade in Belfast. Her 2010 book, Polish Migrants in Belfast: Border Crossing and Identity Construction, is well worth reading.

You can read a recent blog by Marta on the impact of Covid-19 on migrants in Northern Ireland – Contesting lockdown: Backlash to globalisation and right-wing movements

Her latest research, Migrant Lives, Presents and Futures, which aimed to raise awareness about migrant lives in Northern Ireland, particularly in the context of insecurities around Brexit and the pandemic, was recently featured on a podcast. Listen here.

Know Your Rights Guide for International Protection Applicants in Ireland

Know Your Rights: The Rights of Children and Young People - Irish Council  for Civil Liberties

We are compiling a Know Your Rights guide for international protection applicants to be published by ICCL and the Irish Refugee Council.

The Guide explains rights within the protection process, under the EU Reception Directive, and a range of broader rights that apply to everyone in Ireland, including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights such as the right to protest, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, the right not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, the right to education and the right to earn a livelihood.

We would like to hear from asylum seekers, refugees or anyone working with international protection applicants on the contents of the Guide. You can get in touch with us at

Join a focus group – we are running a series of focus group discussions with international protection applicants in May. Join a discussion by emailing

Download information about the Guide and our focus groups here

Algorithmic Bias in Human Resources

Our team – including Dr Bethany Waterhouse-Bradley of Ulster University – has recently created a new resource for employers to increase understanding of how algorithmic racial bias occurs in new human resources tools, and how to address it.

The toolkit – developed for the European Network Against Racism – drew on discussions with employers by ENAR’s Equal@Work Platform as well as academic and policy research on algorithmic bias. The Equal@work Platform is a space for employers, trade unions, public authorities and NGOS to collaborate for innovative solutions to diversity management. Members of the platform explore how to integrate an anti-racist approach; ensuring improved access to the workplace for people of colour and an end to structural discrimination in the labour market.

DOWNLOAD THE TOOLKIT: Artificial intelligence in HR: how to address racial biases and algorithmic discrimination in HR? 

Why do we need a new toolkit for employers?

The use of algorithmic decision making can reduce time for HR professionals and hiring managers in screening large numbers of applicants, improve selection processes, and provide the potential for predictive analysis. Recruitment is the principal arena in which AI functions are being adopted. This includes targeted recruitment advertising, bulk screening of CVs and applications, providing recommendations to human decision makers on who to invite to interview and analysing candidates’ performance in selection tests and interviews.

As awareness grows of the problem of racist attitudes in recruitment – particularly with the popularity of the ‘unconscious bias’ approach and growing market of solutions to address it – many employers assume that automated decision making is more effective at reducing bias than human hiring managers.

AI is now recognised to reproduce and amplify human biases, and the particular capacity for this to exaggerate bias in HR processes is widely acknowledged as deserving of attention. Algorithms can reinforce discrimination if they focus on qualities or markers associated only with particular (already dominant) groups. While some of these markers are easily recognised (e.g. career gaps and gender), the current lack of racial diversity in workplaces across Europe makes markers of racial bias less well recognised.

Algorithms which reinforce these biases will further reduce diversity across the European labour market and reduce corporate flexibility in long-term workforce planning as well as the development of markets. In spite of awareness of these emerging problems, the scale of the potential issues is often understated, and the focus often on the technical aspects; or fixing the tools. This serves to both increase the likelihood of these effects being overlooked, and to shift focus away from the structural and institutional problems which often lead to the production of undesirable outcomes from the use of AI.

Diversity in the workforce is key to business success today. There is a direct correlation between the diversity of a workforce and the breadth of its perspective. Diverse workforces are also more productive, so employers should actively seek ways to recruit candidates into the workforce from different backgrounds.

But trust in algorithmic decision making can be decreased by poor recruitment outcomes, public accountability for bias, and errors in selection and performance functions, leading to ‘algorithmic aversion’. Building confidence amongst HR and D&I Managers that AI can reduce risks for firms in respect of discrimination and recruitment costs is a valuable service to business.

Outline of toolkit

This toolkit is designed for Human Resources and Diversity & Inclusion Managers, as well as Programmers, to ensure that consumers of off the shelf and custom AI solutions for Human Resource Management have a clear guide to challenges, solutions and good practice, in a format which supports conversations with Programmers providing solutions.

The toolkit explores the role of human bias and structural discrimination in discriminatory or unethical AI programmes, and provides clear and practical steps to ensure companies have the necessary cultural and technological tools to responsibly digitalise HR systems with the help of intelligent systems.

In doing so, HR and D&I managers will come to understand bias reproduction and amplification, and gain the confidence to address bias risks produced by inadequate or inappropriate training data, simplistic or reductive classifications or other human errors leading to biased outcomes of algorithmic decision making. Importantly, it will support HR teams in effectively transferring existing knowledge of discriminatory hiring practices and building diverse workplaces to the responsible deployment of intelligent systems to aid in those objectives.

Out today – newest data on racism in Ireland from

2020 iReport annual report launched march 2021, front cover

INAR launch their newest report (by Lucy Michael) today with analysis of 700 reports of racist incidents submitted in 2020 to . The racist incident recording system has been designed to allow comparison with international patterns and to facilitate understandings of racism which are particular to the Irish context.

Based on the data collected through INAR regularly produces Reports of Racism in Ireland. We have been conducting similar analysis for these reports since 2013. Questions are designed to capture a large amount of detail about racist incidents, including information about where, when and how the incident occurred as well as details about victim(s) and perpetrator(s). The system also captures information about why the incident has been perceived as racist, its impact on the victim and/or witnesses, and the interplay with age, gender, sexuality and disability.

See the 2020 report and more reports at

The 2020 Data headlines:

  • More people reported racism in Ireland to in the last year than ever before.  
  • People reported the same high rate of racist assaults in 2020 as in the previous year, despite the lockdown. 
  • 11% of all incidents resulted in physical injuries. Ten people were hospitalised urgently. Twenty-one people suffered head or facial injuries. 
  • Psychological impacts and social isolation resulting from racist abuse and violence have more than doubled. 
  • People have been forced to leave jobs and move homes because of racist violence against them.  
  • Reports of criminal offences, hate speech and graffiti increased last year. 
  • Reports of illegal discrimination and racial profiling by Gardai were also up. 
  • And there has been a significant increase in hate speech by extremist groups. 
General observations infographic from 2020 iReport data launched March 2021

Dr Niloufar Omidi joins our team full-time as Researcher (Policy & Human Rights)

We are very excited to announce that Dr Niloufar Omidi, already engaged with us on the ICCL Know Your Rights project, will join us full-time from Monday 18 March.

Dr Omidi holds a PhD in International Human Rights Law from the Irish Centre for Human Rights, School of Law, National University of Ireland, Galway. Her doctoral thesis, “Peoples’ Right to Peace: Enforcement through International Law Instruments”, laid a legal-philosophical groundwork for the realisation of the right to peace as one of the essential prerequisites for a democratic and equitable international order. She also holds an LL.M. in International Law and has conducted research into international arbitration and completed international arbitration training courses with a focus on the Iran-US Claims Tribunal. Niloufar has taught modules such as “International Human Rights Law for Advocates & Activists”, “Peace Studies”, “Islam & Human Rights” and “International Environmental Law”. She has also supervised postgraduate research in Public Advocacy and Activism at the Huston School of Film & Digital Media, NUI Galway.

Following her doctoral work, she expanded her research on a right to peace beyond ‘the absence of war’ to the right to live in an inclusive, just, and peaceful society (also known as the right to positive peace). She has conducted extensive socio-legal research on minority issues as a way to promote inclusive societies. She worked as a Community Development Worker at the Galway Traveller Movement (GTM) and authored three policy position papers on the right to education, the right to health, and the right to mental health to address the existing inequality and discrimination against this ethnic minority group in Ireland. She has also carried out analytical research on minorities’ cultural rights in Iran. Niloufar has most recently been working on our project team, drafting a clear and accessible Know Your Rights guide for international protection applicants in Ireland to be published by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the Irish Refugee Council.

We are thrilled to have her expertise on board full-time, and look forward to introducing her to you through the year.


Bray for Love launch new mural with conversations about tackling racism

Bray People - Bray for Love to launch new mural

Bray for Love will host an official launch of their Harbour Bar mural, taking place online on Sunday, March 24 at 4 p.m.

The launch marks International day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

They will formally launch the Bray for Love mural painted by Holly Pereira and have some discussions on racism and challenging racism.

Speakers include Emer O’Neill, Anne Waithiera Burke, Dr Lucy Michael, Aideen Roche, Tina Maphakela and Holly Pereira.

Keynote at Launch of new Race Equality Guide for Hiring

I was honoured to be asked to give the keynote speech at the launch today of a new Race Equality Guide for Employers produced by DCU Centre of Excellence for Diversity and Inclusion @DCU_DI

This Guide puts the voices of underrepresented people right at the heart of what it does, and that was a very good reason for me to support its launch! I haven’t been involved in its production at all – that credit entirely goes to the team at DCU led by Sandra Healy, to the Race Equality Forum and its partners, and to Linda Keitasha.

You can find the Guide here: – a recording of the event will be made available soon too.

Keynote Address

I’m very honoured to be here to launch this Guide today, and thank you for inviting me. The Race Equality Guide is not only necessary, but it is an excellent example of good practice in supporting as well as encouraging progressive race equality measures.

I have been 17 years in this area of work, working with national and regional government, international organisations, private and public sector groups, migrants and ethnic minority people from a wide range of groups. There are 3 key things I have learned about making progress on race equality:

  1. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Racism adapts to local contexts and structures. Every country and every sector has to develop good practice and share it for real progress to be made.
  2. Race equality has to become part of our way of doing things. It is not a time-limited project, and it is not finished, because we are undoing centuries of barrier-building and undoing them in a world which does often not want to acknowledge those barriers exist at all. 
  3. There is a reason that Black and Ethnic Minority people are 5 times more likely to identify racism in the workplace than their colleagues. Not only do white employers and employees not experience racism in the majority, we don’t naturally see it either. We have to be prepared to view our institutions and practices in the workplace as more likely to perpetrate racism than not, and approach that problem openly and determinedly. And we have to be prepared to champion that work in a wide range of forums.

Thank you to all of the team in the DCU Centre of Excellence and the Race Equality Forum behind this Guide and the incredible work that has gone into it in the last months. The importance of this tool is not just in what it sets out to do in, but also in what it acknowledges:

  • A highly stratified labour market
  • Job precarity, financial precarity, and reduced choice in the labour market
  • And it draws on lived experiences of those in the labour market who have been affected by those barriers. It highlights the necessity of working in partnership with those with lived experience in order to understand and breakdown those barriers.

It is very important to say that this work is not optional – our society depends upon it, our business sectors depend upon it, our employers depend upon it. Yet too often it’s painted as an extra. Race equality in work is not something we can do, or should do, its something we MUST do. There are hard truths about segregation in the Irish labour market which have to be faced. There are legal protections for employees from racial discrimination, but too often discrimination is so embedded into the structures and practices of the labour market here that they cannot be unpicked and identified as single cases of discrimination. Our problem is not just conscious bias, or even unconscious bias, it’s the very structures we have built in order to do business. And the fact is that those structures do not have to discriminate for us to be effective in business. Rather, they are often shaped by a historic legacy which is not fit for the current world of work.

The segregation which currently exists in the Irish labour market is a series of barriers which are preventing workers from taking up jobs for which they are qualified – sometimes overqualified – and experienced, and preventing employers from benefiting from the wide pool of talent available in this country. We can think too not only of ensuring we get full access to our currently qualified pool of applicants, but of accessing tomorrow’s talent and ensuring employers can access them early and fully for maximum development opportunities.

Work is – I think it is widely acknowledged – first amongst equals in both measures and means of integration. Not only in terms of entry to the labour market but also in pay, promotion, income security, and working conditions. Integration is not a one-stage project for newcomers either, it is an ongoing project for the whole of a society, because our world changes every day, to ensure that all groups have opportunities to contribute and to benefit. The world of work offers us opportunities for stability, for respect, for social status, and for social relationships – all of these are crucial to an equitable society.  

For this reason, I am also really pleased to welcome the establishment of the Race Advisory Council. This is partnership in practice, and it’s something we hopefully we see a lot more of in future. I wish you the very best for your work, and I know that the discussions that you have will be enormously useful in extending the work started here.

I started by saying that we have to view our institutions and practices in the workplace as more likely to perpetrate racism than not, and approach that problem openly and determinedly. One of the things that has most impressed me in this Guide is the way in which it encourages and supports employers to practice authenticity and openness in their approach to race equality work. It is this which, for me, enables us to move beyond race equality as a ‘fix’ towards race equality as a mode of doing business.

Once again, congratulations to the DCU Centre of Excellence and to your Race Advisory Council for the production of this new Race Equality Guide, and many best wishes for the future work to follow. Beir bua agus beannacht libh go léir.