Scottish universities unaware of extent of racial abuse, finds report

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Racial harassment is taking place at an "alarmingly high rate" at universities across the UK an inquiry has found.

At least 24% of ethnic minority students have experienced racial harassment on campus, according to a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Scottish universities have described the findings as "stark and challenging". Picture:  JPIMedia

Scottish universities have described the findings as "stark and challenging". Picture: JPIMedia

And the watchdog said many universities are unaware of the scale of the problem as well as being over-confident in their ability to respond to it.

The report says there are also examples of anti-English sentiment expressed at Scottish universities.
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Scottish universities have described the findings as "stark and challenging".

The EHRC interviewed students and staff, and surveyed a representative sample of 1,000 students.

As many as 44% of international students told the commission that they had experienced racist abuse, yet 77% of those who responded said they had not reported it to their institution.

Less than half of university staff who responded to the watchdog because they had experienced harassment said they reported the incident to their employer.

The report said: "Universities are over-confident that individuals will report harassment, with 43% of universities believing that every incident of racial harassment against students was reported, and 56% believing that all incidents against staff were reported."

EHRC chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said of many universities: "It is considerably disappointing to discover that, instead of being progressive and forward-thinking, they are living in the past and have failed to learn from history."

The commission has recommended to the Government that it reinstates third party harassment protections and to universities that they improve complaints procedures.

Universities UK, the collective body for 136 institutions across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, said it will lead "cross-sector action" to take "effective and urgent steps to prevent and respond to racial harassment".

The figures suggest incidences of racial harassment are lower among students at Scottish universities than at institutions in England. However, the report says this may reflect the fact that England has a more ethnically-diverse student population.

Universities Scotland told the BBC the problem is being taken seriously.

The organisation's convener, Professor Andrea Nolan said: "The findings are stark and challenging for universities and we must turn to face those findings and recommendations head on.

"We are committed to tackle racial harassment within universities. We will follow the collegiate, evidenced approach we have used when dealing with issues around mental health and gender-based violence.

"Scotland will be represented on Universities UK's new advisory group on racial harassment.

"Universities are a platform for people to flourish, we must ensure that always remains the case."