Universities UK calls for urgent action on racial harassment in higher education

students from above

Universities UK (UUK) has today (Tuesday 24 November 2020) published a new set of recommendations designed to decisively tackle racial harassment as part of efforts to address racial inequality in UK higher education.

The recommendations are the product of an advisory group convened by UUK in October 2019 and come just over a year after the Equality and Human Rights Commission uncovered widespread evidence of racial harassment on university campuses.

The advisory group, chaired by Professor David Richardson, Vice-Chancellor, University of East Anglia, was informed by experts in the field and carried out in-depth consultation with panels of exclusively Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students and staff with lived experience of racial harassment.

The resulting recommendations include practical steps that all university leaders can implement immediately:

  • Publicly commit priority status to tackling racial harassment

  • Engage directly with students and staff with lived experience of racial harassment

  • Review current policies and procedures and develop new institution-wide strategies for tackling racial harassment

  • Improve awareness and understanding of racism, racial harassment, white privilege and microagressions among all staff and students, including through anti-racist training

  • Ensure expected behaviours for online behaviour are clearly communicated to students and staff, as well as sanctions for breaches

  • Develop and introduce reporting systems for incidents of racial harassment

  • Collect data on reports of incidents and share regularly with senior staff and governing bodies

The guidance calls on university leaders to acknowledge where there are issues in their institutions, and that UK higher education perpetuates institutional racism. It cites racial harassment, a lack of diversity among senior leaders, the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic student attainment gap and ethnicity pay gaps among staff as evidence. 

It also recommends training for senior leaders and governing bodies to improve their awareness of concepts including white privilege and allyship, and makes clear that efforts to address racial harassment will only succeed if the entire university community – including students, staff, alumni, and local partners – are engaged and encouraged to take shared responsibility for change.

Efforts to tackle racial harassment should be closely linked with wider work by universities to address racial inequalities in their local communities, as well as throughout UK society and culture. 

Professor David Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia and Chair of the Advisory Group said:

“It is my firm belief that UK universities perpetuate institutional racism. This is uncomfortable to acknowledge but all university leaders should do so as a first step towards meaningful change.

“Too often Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students and staff have been failed. While they may have heard positive words, they have seen little action.

“That needs to change now. These recommendations are designed to help university leaders put words into action and tackle racial harassment. By embracing and embedding an anti-racist approach we can ensure that 2021 is the year we lead decisive and meaningful change, not just for our universities but for society as a whole.”

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, Vice-Chancellor, University of Leicester and member of the Advisory Group said:

“Education has the power to change lives, which is why it is imperative that every university creates a truly inclusive environment for every student to flourish and achieve their full potential. It is not acceptable that students at the same institution can have a completely different experience at university just because of their background.

“This report is timely and relevant – students from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds are clearly being let down, and it is a wake-up call to higher education to show we cannot ignore this issue any longer.

“I am acutely aware of the challenges that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students face on a daily basis, which is why I have committed to play my part in effecting change – I am hopeful that my peers will read this report and it will mark the start of a movement of change. We have a moral duty as academic leaders to address this urgently.”

Professor Julia Buckingham, Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London and President, Universities UK said:

“Every racist incident is one too many, and all university students and staff are entitled to a positive, safe and enjoyable experience free from racial harassment. As university leaders we have a duty of care to provide that outcome and these recommendations are designed to ensure that we do.

“Although universities have made progress in tackling all forms of harassment since the launch of UUK’s Changing the culture work in 2016, it’s clear that more needs to be done to tackle racial harassment throughout higher education. This guidance provides lessons and solutions which will help university leaders make rapid and lasting change for all those working and studying at the UK’s universities.

“All university leaders should read this guidance and implement its recommendations alongside their own activities to make a real difference to all those working and studying in our communities.”      




  1. The full report Tackling racial harassment in higher education and a set of case studies were published on the Universities UK website on Tuesday 24 November 2020, alongside annexes.

  1. Universities UK’s work on Changing the culture was launched in 2015 with the creation of a taskforce to tackle all forms of harassment and misconduct in UK higher education. The first report of the taskforce was published in October 2016.

  1. Progress was reviewed both one and two years after the publication of the original framework. The reviews found that institutions were making progress on tackling sexual misconduct but have not given the same priority to racial harassment.

  1. The advisory group on racial harassment was established on 9 October 2019 and took independent expert advice from Dr Tony Sewell, Jatin Haria, and Sandra Kerr. The membership of the advisory group was approximately 50% BAME and 50% white. The full list of members can be found in Annexe F of the report.

  1. The student and staff panels that informed the work of the advisory group were comprised exclusively of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic members. The full list of members for both panels can be found in Annexe G of the report.

  1. Universities UK will publish a webcast discussing the report’s recommendations during the week commencing Monday 30 November. For further information please contact pressoffice@universitiesuk.ac.uk  

  1. Universities UK is the collective voice of 140 universities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Its mission is to create the conditions for UK universities to be the best in the world; maximising their positive impact locally, nationally and globally. Universities UK acts on behalf of universities, represented by their heads of institution. Visit: www.universitiesuk.ac.uk  

Our team

Steven Jefferies

Steven Jefferies

Head of Media
Universities UK

Eloise Phillips

Eloise Phillips

Media Officer
Universities UK

Clara Plackett

Clara Plackett

Senior Media Officer
Universities UK


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