Research perspectives

UK universities condemned for failure to tackle racism

Responses to freedom of information (FoI) requests by the Guardian, sent to 131 universities, has showed that students and staff made at least 996 formal complaints of racism over the past five years. 461 complaints made against students, with the majority lodged by other students, and 535 complaints against staff. About half of the complaints made against staff were from students, including 144 against academics. 367 complaints were upheld, resulting in at least 78 student suspensions or expulsions and 51 staff suspensions, dismissals and resignations.

The universities that recorded the largest number of formal complaints were Cambridge (72); Cardiff (39), Oxford (39), Bedfordshire (36), Nottingham Trent (23), Birkbeck College, University of London (21), Salford (21), and Coventry, Liverpool John Moores and the London School of Economics, each with 20. These figures may of course reflect better complaints procedures.

The Guardian found more than a quarter of the universities surveyed lacked centralised records of racism complaints. Some universities had only begun recording racist incidents in the last few years; others only recorded racist incidents against either staff or students, not both. Some did not specifically record racist incidents, conflating them with other forms of discrimination, harassment and bullying. The vast majority of universities also said they did not record informal complaints, while more than half did not record antisemitism and Islamophobia as racism.

Only one university provided dedicated anti-racism training to all staff, while more than half provided no training on institutional racism. Only five universities said staff who investigated complaints had received specific anti-racism training. No universities provided mandatory training for students.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said its own inquiry had found a similar number of formal complaints over the past four years. Some 1,600 students, lecturers and other staff had responded to its call for evidence of racist incidents over the same period – the largest response to an inquiry it has ever received. The EHRC investigation, due to be published this month has been examining the disparity between the official number of racism complaints and what staff and students actually experience.