This study reports the process of using the FOI Act to access ethnic diversity data on applicants to the DClinPsy programme for 2020 entry, the challenges faced and recommendations for courses given the context of increasing representation and anti-racist practice.
When your university doesn’t understand the assignment: Exposing a lack of transparency and accountability of diversity and inclusion data from Doctorate in Clinical Psychology courses
A research report by Sarah Atayero & Ron Dodzro
As an aspiring psychologist from a Black African and Caribbean background, you often move through different spaces within the profession asking yourself “Will I be the only one?”. Whether that is whilst sat in the waiting area before yet another Assistant Psychologist job interview, or during the induction of your psychology postgraduate course, you remain conscious of being thrown against a sharp White background (Alcock, 2020). This experience has left many aspiring psychologists from people of the global majority (PoGM) backgrounds feeling that clinical psychology is not for them (Ragaven, 2018). We have chosen the term PoGM, as other terms such as ‘BAME’ and ‘racial minorities’ centre ‘Whiteness’ as the default (Ahsan, 2020) and minimise the active process of systemic racism. The reported racial inequalities for PoGM communities (Care Quality Commission, 2010; Lubian et al., 2016), further exacerbated by COVID-19 (DCP, 2020), is often part of the reason psychology graduates from PoGM background pursue a career in clinical psychology (Ragaven, 2018).
Talk is cheap, and when it comes to ‘working’ on diversity and inclusion we have heard a lot of talk from DClinPsy courses yet their actions are less clear.
The lack of racial diversity and inclusion within clinical psychology has become an area of recent focus within the profession (Atayero, 2020; Bell, 2020). Some might argue that the increasing popularity of the topic was triggered by the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Others within the profession may identify the ‘mock’ slave auction at the 2019 Group of Trainers in Clinical Psychology Conference (Patel et al., 2020) as an earlier catalyst that pushed racial diversity to the forefront of clinical psychologists’ minds. Nevertheless, it is a conversation that is happening across all professional Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (DClinPsy) programmes, as these courses are responsible for training the next generation of clinical psychologists in the UK.
Talk is cheap, and when it comes to ‘working’ on diversity and inclusion we have heard a lot of talk from DClinPsy courses yet their actions are less clear. This is disheartening given the growing evidence base on the discrimination and disempowerment that PoGM applicants and trainees experience. DClinPsy courses have a responsibility to record and report not only their ‘commitment’ to racial diversity, but the results of such commitments. One starting point is transparency in the reporting of selection and admissions numbers. In 2020 the Equalities and Diversities Subgroup of Health Education England's Mental Health Workforce Delivery outlined an action plan to improve ethnic representation within clinical psychology. Courses were offered an additional £74,000 funding to implement this action plan, with the aim of increasing ethnic representation, improving anti-racist practice and to decolonise the clinical psychology doctorate course curriculum. As part of the action plan, DClinPsy courses should routinely and transparently report age, gender and ethnicity data for recruitment and retention each year. This includes differential success rates by race and ethnicity. Seems simple right?
We wanted to ... hold courses accountable in the hope that they will take seriously the task of increasing ethnic diversity on courses, which will inevitably lead to better NHS mental health services for everyone.
This study describes the process of trying to access such data and the red tape, bureaucracy and lack of transparency that we experienced. As Black African trainee clinical psychologists, part of the 2020 intake, our journey into the profession has come at a time where ‘decolonial practice’ and ‘increasing representation’ are the zeitgeist. Yet, our DClinPsy experience has been one of ‘being the only one’. We wanted to highlight this and hold courses accountable in the hope that they will take seriously the task of increasing ethnic diversity on courses, which will inevitably lead to better NHS mental health services for everyone.
Inspired by the work of Roger Kline in his seminal ‘Snowy White Peaks’ report (Kline, 2014), we utilised the Freedom of Information Act (FOI, 2000) to attempt to access ethnic and gender information about the 2020 DClinPsy intake. The FOI Act allows members of the public to request access to information held by public authorities, such as universities. Under the FOI Act, universities must reply to a written FOI request within 20 working days and under law they must release this information unless there is good reason not to. Although, there are certain circumstances under which an FOI request can be refused, these include if (1) it would cost too much or take too much staff time to deal with the request, (2) the request is vexatious, or (3) the request repeats a previous request from the same person. There are a number of other exemptions under the act, one of which includes the harm that would arise or would likely arise from disclosure, for example, if disclosure would be likely to
prejudice someone’s commercial interests.
In this study, all DClinPsy courses were emailed an FOI request to the address provided on the
Clearing House website. The FOI request asked for information on the ethnicity and gender of each course’s 2020 entry. This included a request for information on applicants, interviewees, offer holders and accepted places. A standardised email template was sent to each course on the same day in January 2021, and courses were given 20 working days to respond.
The list of 30 DClinPsy courses, in alphabetical order, was divided into two and each researcher was allocated a list of 15 courses to contact. However, as the researchers were current Trainee Clinical Psychologists, to avoid any conflict of interest, each researcher emailed the other’s university course. Where requested by the university, follow-up emails were sent to clarify the information requested, and reasonable allowances provided due to COVID-19 and the time of year in which the request was made - that is during the 2021 DClinPsy admissions process. No chaser emails were sent to courses that did not respond.
For the purposes of this report and in line with the current focus on ethnic diversity within clinical psychology, we have omitted information on gender.
Of the total number of DClinPsy courses contacted, 23 courses (76.7%) responded to the FOI request, and of the 23 courses that responded, 13 courses (56.5%) provided any information. The most common reason for not providing information was that the data was not held by the university and that the Clearing House for Postgraduate Courses in Clinical Psychology (CHPCP) had this information but had not yet released it. The following courses reported that they did not hold information on the ethnicity of applicants: Coventry & Warwick, East Anglia, Edinburgh, Essex, Lancaster, Leeds, Royal Holloway, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Plymouth and Trent.
According to many of these courses this information would be provided by CHPCP between the spring of 2021 and the start of the following academic year, i.e. September 2021. Other reasons given for not completing the FOI data request included that it “would cost too much or take too much staff time to deal with the request” - University of Surrey, or that the university was exempt under Section 43(2) of the FOI Act that states “Information is exempt information if its disclosure under this Act would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person (including the public authority holding it)” - Bangor University.
Of the courses that provided information on ethnicity, there was a wide variety in the completeness and organisation of data. For example, some courses only provided information on the ethnicity of their current cohort (Newcastle, Liverpool), others provided ‘BAME’ data and did not disaggregate the different ethnic groups (Bath). Another course provided information on nationality rather than ethnicity (Exeter), whilst another course failed to provide raw data as requested and instead provided percentages (South Wales). For the sake of completeness, we have only presented data from universities that fully complied with the FOI request in Table 1.
Table 1. Ethnicity breakdown of 2020 DClinPsy applicants
Only provided 'BAME' data
Other includes Arab, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and North African
<5 is used to protect the identities of applicants
Of the courses that responded to the FOI request, 15 (65.2%) reported that information on the ethnicity of panel members was unknown. Courses that reported not holding or recording this information included Bath, UEL, Edinburgh, Essex, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, UCL, Royal Holloway, South Wales, and Trent. Other courses that reportedly held this information declined to provide it, as it would cost too much to access (Surrey) or would reveal the identities of panel members (Teesside). Data from the courses that held data on the ethnicities of their interview panels, revealed entirely White (Coventry & Warwick, Salomons) or predominantly (Hertfordshire) White interview panellists. This included White British, White Irish and other White.
Some institutions thought they were exempt from collecting or providing ... data. Furthermore, if data was provided it was often inaccurate, or even worse conflated ethnicity with ‘nationality’.
CHPCP reports equal opportunities data regarding ethnicity across DClinPsy programmes, but this is often a broad, vague and outdated portrayal. It amalgamates the information from all 30 courses. We wanted to gather raw data from each course in order to hold them accountable. As trainee clinical psychologists, who have just started our DClinPsy training programmes, we were mindful of how this research and report may be received, not only by our own institutions but by the profession in general. At times it has felt as if it has been us against the profession, whilst carrying a heavy burden on our shoulders. Our inflated sense of responsibility stems from perceiving ourselves to be amongst the “lucky few” who have been privileged to be in the position of trainee clinical psychologist.
Quality of data
Many of the responses we received from DClinPsy programmes highlighted a lack of transparency regarding racial diversity on DClinPsy courses. The fact that only a handful of the 30 programmes provided data that was honest or useful, was telling. However, some of the reasons for refusal revealed larger, insidious issues regarding racial diversity. For example, some institutions thought they were exempt from collecting or providing such data. Furthermore, if data was provided it was often inaccurate, or even worse conflated ethnicity with ‘nationality’. Inaccurate data ranged from only providing current cohort data and negating the other FOI questions to providing approximate figures as responses.
DClinPsy training programmes and other stakeholders need to think about the processes occurring between applying for training and receiving a place. Arguably one of these biggest factors is the interview. Implicit, explicit, unconscious and conscious biases are a part of everyday life for every human being. White people are not exempt from this. Being that clinical psychology is predominantly White, it felt accurate to make the hypothesis that the interview panels would be largely White, which prompted this to be one of the research questions. McFarland et al. (2004) found that the racial composition of an interview panel had important practical effects on ratings such that over 20% of selection decisions could change depending on the racial composition of the interview panel. Racial diversity amongst panels has long been recommended in other professional spheres (Buckley et al., 2007). We suggest that DClinPsy training programmes actively seek ethnic representation on interview panels which will be reflective of all those who apply for training.
This research was about exposing institutions and holding them accountable regarding ethnic diversity for future generations of clinical psychologists.
Improving ethnic diversity and representation should start with transparency, whereby courses are not able to shy away from disclosing their failings regarding increasing ethnic representation. If DClinPsy training programmes wholeheartedly want to move forward with ‘diversifying’ this profession, they need to acknowledge their past misgivings. This is in line with the HEE action plan regarding courses transparently yearly publishing ethnicity data for recruitment. We recommend that this is done in a timely fashion in order to help applicants make informed decisions about courses dedicated to anti-racist practice. It is not okay to diversify the profession and bring PoGM into it if they are going to feel isolated on programmes. PoGM applicants should be equipped regarding whether their selected courses are tackling equality, diversity and inclusion.
This research was about exposing institutions and holding them accountable regarding ethnic diversity for future generations of clinical psychologists. It is not acceptable for courses to default to CHPCP. We are no longer abiding by the picture that has been framed for us. We have a voice that needs to be heard. We urge all trainees to challenge and hold their courses accountable in terms of reporting ethnicity information. To the courses that did not feel compelled to report, let alone collect data on ethnicity, think about why this might be, and do better. Think about what it means to the aspiring clinical psychologists, the trainees currently on your courses and the profession in general when as an institution you feel that being transparent is not your duty. Let us hope that these universities get the assignment right when HEE comes calling.
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