In December 2021, the survey by the Defender of Rights and the International Labor Organization (ILO) revealed that more than one in three young people reported having experienced a situation of discrimination or discriminatory harassment.
The existence and extent of discrimination in the labor market, in the housing market and in other markets, is widely established. Unfortunately, nothing suggests that the field of higher education and research will be spared. Tests have already shown that discrimination is generally present in the civil service, particularly in access to employment . Other experimental work has shown that teachers, in their evaluations , were victims of their stereotypes about the chances of success of immigrant students. Thomas Breda and Mélina Hillion have highlighted discriminatory biases in favor of the minority gender during the Capes and aggregation competitions.
Discrimination is both a crime and an object of research. Several interpretations have been proposed by researchers. They can reflect the unconscious stereotypes of recruiters, correspond to a deliberate will, under the effect of a subjective aversion for such or such personal characteristic, or even result from a constructed reasoning, bringing into play conscious stereotypes on the aptitudes of a given social group.
Two approaches are used to measure them. Researchers first solicit the experience of people who have been discriminated against using surveys. This is the case, for example, of the Virages survey on sexual violence conducted by INED . A complementary approach is to directly observe the behavior of discriminating people. This is the principle of the correspondence test, more commonly called testing.
A first test in universities
We tested the hypothesis of discrimination during access to master’s registration from a representative sample of 607 courses, from 19 universities. Our protocol is based on simple requests for information, as in the international literature on discrimination in access to housing. Fictitious students solicit directly by e-mail master’s supervisors in order to present their candidacy. Their requests are similar and differ only in one personal characteristic.
Two criteria were tested: an origin from North Africa, suggested by the first and last name of the candidate, and a situation of motor disability, the candidate indicating that he is in a wheelchair. We then studied the answers of the training managers and then we questioned them through a post-survey, three months after the initial test.
Our results highlight the existence of a discriminatory bias in the processing of requests for information by those in charge of masters. Compared to the reference candidate who obtains a positive response for 70% of his requests, a candidate of North African origin has 6.8 percentage points, or 12.3% less chance, of receiving a response to his request. of information. The proportion of discriminating masters is highest in the legal streams (where it reaches 33.3%) and is very high in the major area of Science, Technology and Health. It is very weak in the literary and linguistic streams. The penalty suffered by the wheelchair candidate is close to 2 percentage points, but it is not statistically significant.
A rate of discrimination correlated with the attractiveness of the master’s degree
Published in February 2022, the study highlights several determinants of discrimination. First of all, they are favored by the lack of information on the quality of the candidates. Discriminating managers more frequently indicate that they encounter difficulties in evaluating the quality of training outside their establishment.
The organization of recruitment is also in question. The results show that managers who decide alone during recruitment discriminate more than those who have implemented a more collective procedure.
Finally, the most attractive courses, those with the highest integration rates, tend to discriminate more. The most discriminating courses are those that receive the most applications (414 vs 265). The training courses that discriminate the most are also those that lead to better professional integration and better employment conditions and pay. For example, the difference in response rate between candidates is 15 percentage points for masters whose integration rate at 30 months is greater than or equal to 92%, whereas it is not significantly different from zero for those whose integration rate is lower. It is these differences in attractiveness and integration rates that explain most of the differences in the level of discrimination between specialties and universities.
While public debate and research on discrimination are mainly focused on the field of access to employment, the observation is that discrimination prevails long before professional integration, even in access to training. . The consequences of this discrimination should not be underestimated. Candidates who are discriminated against will have to redouble their efforts to access good training and, for a given level of effort, they will access training offering fewer professional opportunities. It is thus the very return on their educational investment that is diminished.
These initial results encourage further research. With the support of the Ministry of Research and Higher Education, the Defender of Rights, and France Universities, Gustave Eiffel University launched in February 2022 the National Observatory of Discrimination and Equality in Higher Education. (Waves). The objective is to promote research work on these themes, in all disciplines and with qualitative and/or quantitative methodologies. The Observatory is open to all institutions wishing to participate in the framework of partnerships under construction. It is a tool for scientific animation and awareness of actors.
This initiative materializes in the field of higher education and research the proposals for the creation of a National Observatory of discrimination within official statistics which have been made both by the Defender of Rights and by our colleague Thomas Piketty.
Take better action against racism and sexism
Following article 80 of the law of transformation of the public service of August 6, 2019, each of the 181 establishments of higher education and research has adopted an Equality plan including the fight against discrimination. According to the Ministry’s report , universities have set up listening and processing units for reports of violence and discrimination, which locally supplement the national platform (with 3928) launched in February 2021. They organize actions to awareness and training sessions for all audiences in the university community.
Innovative reflections could be conducted on the organization of access to training by integrating the question of the working conditions of managers: explanation of selection criteria, traceability of the recruitment procedure, development of collegiality, fight against the overload of work or the isolation of those responsible for training…
The university community is rich in people who are committed against racism, sexism and discrimination. Student organizations also offer interesting leads, such as increasing the number of places in the most attractive courses, access to appeal procedures or even the transparency of selection criteria.
The fight against arbitrariness, discrimination and violence is in line with the values of equality and universality at the foundation of the university project. But the selectivity of training as well as the improvement of the working conditions of teacher-researchers raises questions about the human and financial resources of higher education. Establishments will probably not be able to carry out the fight against discrimination and for equality on their own. The State’s commitment remains decisive for carrying out ambitious public policies with a national focus.
Author Bios: Yannick L’Horty is an Economist, university professor, Louis-Alexandre Erb is a a PhD student in the economics of inequalities also at Université Gustave Eiffel and Sylvain Chareyron is a Lecturer in Economics at Paris-Est Créteil Val de Marne University (UPEC)