University staff and students should be given anti-racist training to improve their awareness of “white privilege, fragility and allyship”, universities have been told.
Training should be given in understanding racial “microaggressions” to tackle racial harassment on university campuses, in guidance published by Universities UK (UUK).
The group, which represents vice-chancellors, has called on senior leaders and governing bodies to acknowledge that racism exists in universities and higher education.
Professor David Richardson, 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.”
Training in white privilege, white fragility, white allyship and microaggression should be provided to both staff and students at universities, according to the guidance.
Universities should also introduce reporting systems for incidents of racial harassment, sanctions for breaches in online behaviour and share data on reported incidents with senior staff and governing bodies, it adds.
It added: “The sector cannot reach its full potential unless it benefits from the talents of the whole population, and individuals from all ethnic backgrounds can benefit equally from the opportunities it provides.
“These developments reinforce the need to act now.”
Professor Nishan Canagarajah, vice-chancellor of the University of Leicester and member of the advisory group, said: “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.”
The recommendations by UUK follow a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) last year that found an “alarmingly high rate” of racial harassment on university campuses.
The report found that nearly a quarter of ethnic minority students had experienced racial harassment at university.
Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive at the EHRC, said: “It is vital that universities make absolutely clear that any form of racial harassment is wholly unacceptable.”
“We welcome this guidance from Universities UK and are pleased to see that they have taken forward a number of our recommendations.
“This leadership could go a long way to help universities become inclusive environments where everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential through education.”