Universities are ‘institutionally racist’, says UEA vice-chancellor

UEA vice chancellor David Richardson.

UEA vice chancellor David Richardson. - Credit: Archant

The vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia has said that UK universities are institutionally racist and must do more to support students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Prof David Richardson, who also leads Universities UK’s advisory group on racial harassment on campuses, said there was evidence of systemic issues that disproportionately affected students of colour.

Speaking on a BBC Three documentary titled Is Uni Racist?, he said: “I think that historically, students who experienced racial harassment have not felt able to report it or felt safe to report it for various reasons.”

The film, which was broadcast this week, focussed on how complaints of racist abuse have been handled by universities, looking at the stories of four students. 

None of the featured students had experienced issues while studying in Norfolk.

Students at University of East Anglia.

The vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia has said that UK universities are institutionally racist. - Credit: Supplied

Research from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, published in 2019, suggested that one in four of the black and other ethnic minority students that took part in the survey had experienced racial harassment since their course started. One in 20 students said they had left their course because of it.


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Prof Richardson said that “racial harassment in universities is under-reported”, and his group published guidance and recommendations in November 2020 to improve the experience of black and ethnic minority students.

He said: “There’s mixed experiences, but many aren’t good. There is a lot of evidence that points towards universities perpetuating systemic racism, being institutionally racist and I have acknowledged that on behalf of the sector.

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“Institutional racism is when there are systemic issues that are impacting disproportionally on particular members of your community, which need to be dismantled.”

Those recommendations in Universities UK’s report include publicly committing to tackling racism, engaging with staff and students who’ve experienced it, and collecting data on reports of incidents.

The UEA sign, Earlham Road entrance.

Universities UK’s recommendations for tackling racism were partly based on examples of good practice from the UEA. - Credit: Archant

The new guidance was informed by a series of case studies of good practice in tackling racial inequality, with one of the examples coming from UEA’s Norwich Medical School.

An event in 2019 discussed differential attainment and gave students the platform to share their experiences, generating a shared set of priorities, including the launch of a student BAME working group.

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