The UK’s equality body has launched an inquiry into racial harassment in higher education institutions (HEIs), such as universities and higher education colleges.

The inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, launched earlier this month, is looking at how easy and effective the routes for reporting racial harassment are in HEIs, and how effectively reports are dealt with.

The Commission launched the inquiry following concerns raised by universities and other representative bodies that racial harassment is affecting both staff and students at British universities.

It is particularly concerned that if certain students are made to feel unwelcome, this may impact on their attainment, thereby contributing to the lower qualifications achieved by ethnic minority students despite more entering higher education. Indeed, some student representatives have suggested that universities are brushing incidents under the carpet unless they go viral on social media.

It therefore wants to hear from individuals who have experienced, witnessed or helped in a incident of racial harassment in an HEI (either as a member of staff or a student) in England, Scotland or Wales after September 2015.  It is asking them why they did or did not report their experiences and what processes and support systems would have made it easier for them to report what happened to them.

The Commission is requiring universities to provide detailed information about the processes they have in place to support staff and students who have experienced or witnessed racial harassment while working or studying at university. This includes how effectively universities respond to individual cases and use data to help find solutions to the problem.

Specifically, the inquiry is looking at instances of racial harassment when it occurs between individuals, for instance a university staff member on a student, staff on staff, student on student and student on staff.

The inquiry will use this evidence to develop recommendations for what can be done to improve the ways universities respond to racial harassment of staff and students.

The consultation closes on February 15 2019 and the Commission aims to publish the results of its inquiry by the autumn of 2019.

Jo Seery of Thompsons Solicitors commented:

"The EHRC Inquiry is welcome, if overdue. Racial harassment is not only unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 but it can have an adverse impact on levels of attainment amongst staff and students.  Unions have long campaigned for more effective procedures to tackle racial harassment at UK Universities. In September 2018 the UCU published its own research on the impact of the race equality charter, which recommended in its report that Universities should carry out an annual audit to address the lack of BME attainment amongst staff and students."

To find out more, you can go to the Equality Human Rights website.