Report Into Racial Harassment At UK Universities

VP Welfare & Diversity Lucy Simpson brings you up to date with the findings from the Equality and Human Rights Commission's inquiry into racial harassment at UK universities.

On 23 October 2019 the Equality and Human Rights Commission released a report following an extensive inquiry into racial harassment at universities across the UK.

This report is 120 pages long and details immense inequalities and harassment to students and staff from ethnic minority backgrounds. The report also makes recommendations to universities on how to improve treatment of students and staff. I’ve summarised the key findings and recommendations below:

Read the report


  • 24% of students from an ethnic minority background have experienced racial harassment (this makes up 13% of all students)
  • 20% of those who experienced racial harassment were physically abused, and 56% reported verbal harassment
  • 50% of staff felt they had been ignored or excluded because of their ethnicity
  • 1/20 students dropped out of university in their first year due to racial harassment
  • 2/3 students do not report racial harassment when it occurs
  • Over three and a half years, across 350 higher education institutions in the UK, only 559 complaints were recorded. Over the six month period of inquiry, around 60,000 students will have reported a complaint
  • Universities felt that they handled complaints well, but did not seek feedback on the complaints procedure. Staff and students felt that they were not well informed on how to make a complaint and were not kept informed during the process
  • Policies intended to address racial harassment were normally in place, but there was inadequate enforcement of the policies and they were rarely updated
  • It was felt that universities would put their reputation before ensuring the wellbeing of their staff and students


  • Universities must provide adequate ability for students and staff to report racial harassment
  • Universities must ensure there is effective data collection so that they are able to monitor harassment in order to implement effective strategies
  • University regulators such as Universities UK and funding councils should provide more guidance around how to address racial harassment
  • Universities must “ensure that initiatives to support mental health in higher education reflect the impact of harassment on people’s mental health and wellbeing, and the needs of people with different protected characteristics, to best support a diverse student and staff population”
  • Universities must use National Student Survey (NSS) responses to lead action and improve understanding around racial harassment

The report is far more damning of universities than this summary. It reveals to universities what students have been crying out about for a long time. The credibility of the report lends significant weight to the message and universities have finally started to pay attention. Royal Holloway will be making a statement on the report in their weekly email on Sunday.

The great thing about this report is that it will prompt universities across the UK to put racism, and the experience of a student from a minority ethnicity background, at the top of the agenda. Moreover, the report recommends that the government take action, putting the responsibility on every level of governance.

What is for certain for now, is that this cannot continue. Racism, harassment, abuse, microaggressions, exclusion and all forms of intolerant behaviour are unacceptable. Not only because a report has mandated higher education providers to act upon it, but because such behaviour is simply reprehensible.

What can I do?

If you have experienced racial discrimination at Royal Holloway, I urge you to report it. Small or large, every incident is worth reporting.

Reporting an incident of racial harassment or discrimination will not impact your grades or your right to be educated. If you are concerned that there will be negative repercussions, talk to the SU, we have full time advisors in the Advice Centre who can help guide you through complaints and even come with you to any meetings that you are nervous about. We always have your back.

What are we doing?

The Students’ Union is an independent organisation to the College which allows us to act as a critical friend. As Vice President for Welfare and Diversity I sit on a number of committees, including Equality and Diversity Committee where I routinely push for stricter policies regarding harassment and discrimination. One of the projects that we have been pushing the College for is called Report and Support. This is a piece of software that allows users to report harassment of any form, including hate crime. This can be reported anonymously should you wish, and will connect you to appropriate services such as the police and counselling services. The College have already committed to this project but it has hit a number of roadblocks along the way. Hopefully, this should be implemented by the end of the year. This will mark a huge step forward, but there is still a long way to go.

As a Students’ Union, this year we are rewriting what is a more than slightly outdated policy for Equality, Diversion and Inclusion. I am leading this project, and we will be getting student input later on this year. The newly created Wellbeing, Community and Diversity Executive will be helping us to write this policy, making sure that we have underrepresented voices at its heart.

Last year we launched our Student Experience Project, which looked into the experience of BAME students on campus. We hired three BAME researches who undertook 60 hours of interviews with students and identified a number of areas where both the Students’ Union and the College can improve. We, alongside academic departments, have also introduced some BAME specific academic rep roles to improve representation within your degree. The report will be released later on this academic year.

VP Education Kate Roberts and I have been working with the College on their Access and Participation plan, which addresses the BAME attainment gap. This is a huge piece of work which the College is undertaking and is looking at everything from applying to university, to academic achievement.

There are many things that we as a Students’ Union do to work on discrimination, underrepresentation and harassment. From the events we run, to how we represent your welfare and academic interests. If you want to get involved, and help us improve what we and the College do, please get in touch.

Lucy Simpson // Vice President Welfare & Diversity