Tackling racial harassment in higher education

9 December 2020

Universities UK (“UUK”) has published a new set of recommendations designed to decisively tackle racial harassment as part of wider efforts to address racial inequality in the higher education sector. This comes just over a year after an inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission uncovered evidence of widespread racial harassment on university campuses.

UUK is the collective voice of 140 universities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The UUK convened an advisory group in October 2019, which consulted external experts and carried out in-depth consultation with panels of exclusively Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (“BAME”) students and staff with lived experience of racial harassment. The new guidance was subsequently developed by the advisory group and applies to all members of the university. It calls on university leaders to acknowledge where there are issues in their institutions, such as racial harassment, a lack of diversity among senior leaders, the BAME student attainment gap and ethnicity pay gaps among staff, and to implement its recommendations to make a difference to all those working and studying in their communities.

UUK Recommendations

The guidance identifies common issues and barriers to addressing racial harassment, and recommends practical steps that all university leaders can implement immediately. These recommendations include:
  • 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 related issues, including through anti-racist training;
  • Ensure expected online behaviours are clearly communicated to students and staff, as well as sanctions for breaches; 
  • Develop and introduce reporting systems for incidents of racial harassment; and
  • Collect data on reports of incidents and share regularly with senior staff and governing bodies to monitor issues. 
Professor David Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia and Chair of the Advisory Group has 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.”


Universities should create an inclusive and safe environment for both students and staff to enable them to flourish and achieve their full potential.  The UUK’s guidance will be an important tool in the battle against racism in higher education, and shows the commitment by universities to take action.

Higher education is a pivotal point of development for many, and universities have to ensure that the experience is inclusive for all regardless of their background, to ensure that future development is not hampered.

Further Information

We are experts in disciplinary and fitness to practise investigations conducted by universities, as well as in the associated areas of safeguarding and the application of the Equality Act 2010. Our regulatory team acts for both students and universities in the course of disciplinary investigations and hearings concerning both academic and non-academic misconduct.
If you have any questions, please contact a member of our team.


About the authors

Shannett is a Partner in the Regulatory Team providing regulatory advice predominantly in the health and social care sector. She is also a member of the private prosecutions team providing advice to individuals, business and charities in respect of prosecutions were traditional agencies are unwilling or unable to act.

Christina Orthodoxou is an Associate in the firm’s Regulatory team.  She specialises in the defence of a range of professionals, particularly in the medical,  legal and financial industries.



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