Professor David Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia, has claimed that UK universities are institutionally racist.
He spoke out about how governing bodies should be less concerned with the reputation of universities and more about fixing a systematic issue within higher education.
Richardson, in his role as chair of an advisory group combatting racial harassment on campuses, explained how the system has failed ethnic minorities.
He clarified how there needs to be “meaningful change” in order to halt institutional racism.
“We need to acknowledge that and put in place better support to make them feel safe and to help them be reassured that this will not damage their grades,” said Richardson.
Jenny Sherrard, Head of Equality at the University and College Union, addressed how universities are very quick to claim their “anti-racist” credentials – whether that be in presenting statistics for ethnic minority intake or through awareness weeks.
Sherrard and Richardson both agreed that “positive words” don’t translate to effective action, and that more is needed to “ensure that our higher education sector is equal and inclusive”.
A report made after an inquiry from the government’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) showed how “tens of thousands of racist incidents every year” were being left unaddressed by universities. Given data protection laws, students were unable to know the outcome of any case.
Other students expressed a fear of reporting incidents due to a belief that it would damage their grades or career prospects. This called attention to how experiences are affecting students’ wellbeing and education where they feel that there is a lack of trust or support from institutions.
We need to acknowledge that and put in place better support to make them feel safe and to help them be reassured that this will not damage their grade
– Professor David Richardson
EHRC found that around a quarter of ethnic minority students had faced racial harassment, yet due to universities’ overconfidence, they were incapable of understanding and tackling the scale of the issue.
This comes after a BBC Three documentary called Is Uni Racist?, which focused on four students and how racial abuse complaints had been handled by universities.
Presented by Linda Adey, the documentary highlighted 19-year-old student Zac Adan, who was accused of “looking like a drug dealer” and pinned to a wall by University of Manchester security guards.
Adan said that his personal incident made him feel that universities’ reputations were considered to be “more important than the welfare and wellbeing of students”.
In response to Adan’s case, Manchester University said: “We have significant ongoing work to strengthen our approach to equality, diversity and inclusion in collaboration with our students and staff. We have developed a robust action plan and a Race Matters report, which we are putting into place as a priority.”