UUK appoints independent experts to racial harassment taskforce

The sector is trying to get to grips with the issue after the Equalities and Human Rights Commission delivered a damning report last year

Universities UK (UUK) has appointed independent experts to help the higher education sector tackle racial harassment.

The sector body, which represents 137 universities, is hosting a conference today on tackling sexual violence, harassment and hate crimes on campus.

The summit has been organised in response to a series of damaging stories and reports on discriminatory culture in higher education.

Last October, the Equality and Human Right’s Commission published a report which claimed racial harassment occurs “at an alarmingly high rate” in universities and vice-chancellors appear “unaware of the scale of the issue”.

The EHRC inquiry – Tackling racial harassment: universities challenged – revealed that 24% of ethnic minority students have experienced racial harassment on campus.

“There was a strong perception that universities too often place their reputation above the safeguarding and welfare of their students and staff,” the EHRC report concluded.

In her keynote address to the UUK conference today, president Prof Julia Buckingham told UUK members: “If we are to tackle these issues effectively then senior leaders – myself, and the other 136 members of Universities UK – must embed, expand and effect the further change that is necessary.”

A UUK taskforce has been established to offer guidance to all its members. Last year, Prof Buckingham announced she would beef up the team with the appointment of three independent external experts.

If we are to tackle these issues effectively then senior leaders – myself, and the other 136 members of Universities UK – must embed, expand and effect the further change that is necessary
– Prof Julia Buckingham, Universities UK

The UUK president used her keynote speech today to announce their names:

  • Dr Tony Sewell, fellow of UCL, senior research fellow for demography, immigration, and integration at Policy Exchange and the CEO of the charity Generating Genius.
  • Jatin Haria, executive director at the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights in Scotland, who also worked on the Scottish Government’s Race Equality Framework.
  • Sandra Kerr, the race equality director of Business in the Community, who was instrumental in developing the Race at Work Charter.

Progress on tackling hate crimes

Prof Buckingham, who is also vice-chancellor of Brunel University London, took a swipe at her fellow university chiefs when she emphasised that responsibility for tackling racial discrimination must sit at a senior level.

The UUK’s latest survey of the sector, published in October 2019, showed that in around only half of universities did responsibility for tackling harassment, violence and hate crime rest with senior leaders. The report published alongside the survey results, concluded that tackling gender-based violence had taken priority over other types of hate crime like racially motivated incidents.

The UUK’s 2016 Changing the Culture report made various recommendations to vice-chancellors, including providing governing bodies with updates on sexual violence, harassment and hate crime. The UUK’s latest survey showed only 52% of universities had taken the feedback on board.

“We should be aiming for 100%,” Prof Buckingham reminded university chiefs.

Although the 2019 survey found improvements since the 2016 Changing the Culture report, lack of funding was identified as the main impediment to progress.

Race Equality Charter

Last year, a report published by the Higher Education Policy Institute suggested universities should be denied research grants if they were failing to tackle racial inequality.

Only one third of universities have applied for an award from the Race Equality Charter (REC) in the three years since it was launched. The report said more needs to be done to encourage institutions to engage with the work of the charter, including, potentially, withholding valuable research funding.

One of the report’s authors, Prof Kalwant Bhopal, argued that there was a precedent for using research grants as leverage. The decision by the British Medical Council to make research grants conditional on institutions holding a Silver or Gold Athena SWAN award incentivised universities to tackle gender inequality, she said.

Read more: BME staff less likely to hold top university jobs

Related news: Universities failing to close BAME student attainment gap – UUK


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