The report recommends that vice-chancellors undergo training to improve racial literacy as part of a sector-wide crackdown, amid calls on senior leaders to admit where there are problems of racism at their institutions.
This would include measures to improve understanding and awareness of racism among staff and students as well as education to highlight the negative impacts of racial micro-aggressions, white privilege and white allyship.
The report, Tackling Racial Harassment in Higher Education, comes after the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that universities were failing to address tens of thousands of racist incidents every year, reports The Guardian.
While roughly a quarter of ethnic minority students said they had experienced racial harassment, the EHRC said that many universities were not only unaware of the scale of the problem, but were also ‘overconfident’ in their ability to respond to it.
As well as the continuing issue of racial harassment on campuses, the UUK report also goes further, highlighting a range of issues including the lack of diversity among senior leaders, the black, Asian and minority ethnic student attainment gap, and ethnicity pay gaps among staff.
Universities are now being urged to review current policies and procedures for dealing with racism and to develop new institution-wide strategies for tackling racial harassment.
On top of these measures, Vice-chancellors are advised to introduce new reporting systems allowing institutions to collect and share data relating to racist incidents, and – importantly – to engage directly with staff and students who have real-life experiences off racism.
Vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia and chair of the advisory group that drew up the recommendations, Professor David Richardson, 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.”
Director of the Centre for Research in Race and Education at the University of Birmingham, Prof Kalwant Bhopal, said an acknowledgement of structural and institutional racism in higher education was a positive step forward – but that it must be followed by real actions resulting in change.
“Too often we see reports such as this which result in side-stepping addressing racial inequalities under the guise of ‘equality and diversity’,” he said. “What is needed is a specific focus on race so that it does not get diluted in the equality and diversity discourse.”
Jenny Sherrard, who is head of equalities at the University and College Union, said universities were quick to state their anti-racist credentials. “But we need more than warm words from institutions in order to ensure that our higher education sector is equal and inclusive.”