FURTHER education groups this week denied reports that most colleges have failed to grasp the nettle of promoting racial equality.
A series of "witness days" is being held around the country as part of the Commission for Black Staff in Further Education's research into the treatment of ethnic minorities in colleges.
The commission claims it has sufficient evidence, to be published in a report later this year, to conclude institutional racism and discrimination are rife in the sector.
It will include the accounts of lecturers who took part in the witness days in London, Bournemouth, Oldham, Leeds, Newcastle, Leicester and Bradford, where staff are invited to give their accounts of discrimination with a guarantee of anonymity.
The commission says the ethnic profile of teaching and support staff should more closely reflect that of the students. It says there are too many colleges, especially in London, where more than 40 per cent of students are black but most staff are white.
"The majority of colleges do not understand the purpose of monitoring, or the principles of equal opportunities and do not recognise that there is a problem," said Michael Peters, the commission's chairman, and executive director of Lambeth council. "The commission regrets to conclude that the ignorance and complacency of some colleges and FE providers about the issue of the employment and treatment of black staff constitutes institutional racism."
The commission, which is being funded over two years at pound;400,000 by the Department for Education and Employment, estimates that the proportion of black and Asian teachers in FE is 3 per cent, and that they represent 5 per cent of support staff.
"Colleges have made significant advances," said Peter Pendle, general secretary of the Association forCollege management. "I don't think it is fair to say that most colleges don't recognise the problem.
"I don't know that you can say a college is institutionally racist just because the proportion of staff who are black or Asian is not the same as the proportion of students from those groups, but I think when the contrast between the ethnic mix of students and staff is really striking, you have to ask yourself if that is right."
The commission's comments underestimate the efforts which have been made by colleges since incorporation, according to the Principals' Professional Council.
Ken Clarke, the council's chief executive, said: "I don't think it is a fair comment to make now. It may have been probably more than five years ago.
"Over the past five years, at least, I think there has been a significant shift in the management of colleges and, since 1993 and the introduction of human resources specialists in colleges, things have changed dramatically, although it takes a while for that to filter through as HR people settle in and begin to make an impact."
The Association of Colleges says FE has been one of the first sectors to demonstrate effective policies on equal opportunities.
"I think it would be wrong to draw conclusions from allegations which have not been investigated," said David Gibson, general secretary of the AOC, "but this is part of a wider piece of research by the commission." Mr Gibson, who is also a member of the commission, refused to comment on the allegation that most colleges are guilty of racial discrimination.
"We will have to wait until we have seen the research," he said.
Commission members also include Paul Mackney, general secretary of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, Tony Henry, deputy chief executive of City College Birmingham, and Rita Dobson, of the AOC's secretariat.