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Equality body to investigate racial harassment at universities

Equality and Human Rights Commission

3 min read Partner content

Great Britain’s national equality body is launching a formal inquiry into racial harassment at universities.

Universities and representative bodies have raised concerns that racial harassment is affecting both staff and students at British universities, which may impact on staff members’ decision to remain with their employers. Some student representatives have also suggested that universities are brushing incidents under the carpet unless they go viral on social media.

There is also a link between being made to feel unwelcome and attainment, which may contribute to the lower qualifications achieved by ethnic minority students despite more entering higher education. This has led the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to launch an inquiry to understand the situation and what can be done to tackle it.

The EHRC want to hear from university staff and students to understand their experiences of racial harassment in higher education and to see whether universities are effectively responding to and supporting people following such experiences. It will also ask individuals why they did or did not report their experiences and what processes and support systems would have made it easier for them to report what happened to them.

Publicly funded universities will be required to provide detailed information about the processes they have in place to support staff and students who have experienced or witnessed racial harassment whilst working or studying at university. This will include how effectively universities respond to individual cases and use data to help find solutions to the problem.

Specifically, the inquiry will look at instances of racial harassment when it occurs between individuals, for instance university staff on student, staff on staff, student on student and student on staff.

The inquiry will use this evidence to develop recommendations for what can be done to improve the ways universities respond to racial harassment of staff and students.

 David Isaac, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

“Racial harassment of any kind is abhorrent, divisive and entirely unacceptable. There’s no place for it in society and the level that we have seen occurring within universities is particularly concerning, especially when it has a detrimental impact on student attainment and leaves staff feeling ridiculed or undermined. As Great Britain’s equality body, we’re committed to upholding equality and human rights and using our powers and insight into people’s experiences to make appropriate recommendations for action.

“Everyone must have the opportunity to reach their potential through education. Universities must have systems in place to stop racial harassment being a stumbling block to educational achievement and ensure that victims can obtain redress.”

The inquiry’s full terms of reference are:

  • To understand the types of racial harassment experienced by staff and students at publicly funded Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and where these incidents take place.
  • To understand the extent to which publicly funded HEIs provide routes to redress through which staff and students can report incidents of racial harassment and the extent to which these are available and accessible.
  • To understand what constitutes effective action in response to a report of racial harassment and the extent to which the routes to redress which are available to staff and students in publicly funded HEIs result in effective action.
  • Where the routes to redress through which staff and students in publicly funded HEIs can report racial harassment are not available or accessible, or do not result in effective action, to make recommendations for improvements which will better enable staff and students to obtain redress following an incident of racial harassment at those institutions.
  • To assess whether the statutory and other legal responsibilities of publicly funded HEIs to staff and students at those institutions who experience racial harassment are adequate to ensure the provision of available, accessible and effective routes to redress.


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