British universities ‘oblivious’ to racism on campus

Nishan Canagarajah says BAME inclusion vital to improve universities.
Nishan Canagarajah says BAME inclusion vital to improve universities.

British universities have been accused of being “oblivious” to the “alarmingly high rate” of racial harassment on their campuses.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that nearly a quarter of ethnic minority students faced racial harassment at a university since starting their course. Black students reported the highest rate of racial harassment (29 per cent) followed by Asian students (27 per cent).

While almost half of the universities believed that every incident of racial abuse was reported, EHCR found that only a third of those affected lodged complaints.

Students reportedly suffered physical assaults, racial slurs, dismissive comments and stereotyping.

These findings showed that universities were “not only out of touch with the extent that [racism] is occurring on their campuses, some are also completely oblivious to the issue”, said Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the EHCR.

“We expect universities to be innovative environments that do more than just teach us how to pass exams,” she said. “We look to them to help us to grow as individuals and prepare us to be good citizens. It is considerably disappointing to discover that, instead of being progressive and forward thinking, they are living in the past and have failed to learn from history.”

Calling the findings “deeply troubling,” Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students regulator, said: “It is a particular concern that many students do not feel confident in reporting incidents of racial harassment and have low confidence in their complaints being dealt with. That almost half of universities believe that every incident of racial harassment against their students was reported indicates a worrying complacency.”

Universities UK, the collective body for 136 institutions across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, said it will take “effective and urgent steps to prevent and respond to racial harassment”.

The organisation’s president, Professor Julia Buckingham, said: “Universities UK will today be urgently seeking independent, external expertise to strengthen our new group on tackling racial harassment to advise universities on effective actions and how to scrutinise and challenge action plans.

“And I am calling on my fellow university leaders to make this a top priority, starting by committing publicly to taking urgent action in their institution and ensuring staff and students know how to report incidents and how to access the support available to them.”