two students of different ethnicity sitting together on a university campus two students of different ethnicity sitting together on a university campus

Racial harassment in higher education: our inquiry


We have launched an inquiry to understand the types of racial harassment experienced at publicly funded higher education institutions (HEIs), such as universities or higher education colleges.

We asked to hear from staff and students who have experienced, witnessed or helped in an incident of racial harassment from September 2015 onwards.

The call for evidence closed on 28 February 2019 and we are analysing the responses.

About the inquiry

Our inquiry will look at how easy and effective the routes for reporting racial harassment are in HEIs, and how effectively reports are dealt with.

We want to hear from you if you experienced, witnessed or helped in a incident of racial harassment in a HEI (either as a member of staff or a student) in England, Scotland or Wales (after September 2015). We also want to hear from you if you have other information relevant to this inquiry.

Publicly funded universities are also required to provide detailed information about the processes they have in place to support staff and students who have experienced or witnessed racial harassment.

We are focusing on higher education institutions that received funding from the Office for Students, the Scottish Funding Council or the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales in the academic year 2018 to 2019.

However, we expect that our findings and recommendations for action will be relevant to all higher education providers. We will work with the wider sector to promote effective practice.

We aim to publish our inquiry report by autumn 2019.

An inquiry is a way for us to find out more about equality, diversity or human rights within a particular sector or about a specific issue. It is one of our powers.


Why are we inquiring in this area?

Feeling a sense of belonging is an important factor in students and staff reaching their potential. Racial harassment can make people feel they don't belong somewhere. 

Research suggests significant numbers of ethnic minority students are victims of racial harassment, and many are very anxious about the issue. Ethnic minority staff are also more likely to say they experience harassment working in universities than their white peers.  

We want to better understand the experiences of staff and students who experience racial harassment and how effectively they can seek redress. We think this is an important part of feeling able to pursue studies and careers in higher education.

Understanding this is important due to the link between race and achievement or participation in higher education. 

young woman sitting alone next to a window, where things are happening inside

Ways to respond

The call for evidence closed on 28 February 2019 and we are analysing the responses.

How we handle your data

The students and staff surveys are anonymised. The Smart Survey website may collect personal data, see the Smart Survey privacy policy for more information. Please note that submitting information by email means you are no longer anonymous.    

However, anything you tell us either in the survey or by email will be treated as confidential and will not be passed to any other organisation. Our report will not identify individual universities or higher education institutions unless otherwise agreed. 


Terms of reference

Full details of what the inquiry will cover can be found in the terms of reference:

We can only consider evidence about issues that fall within the inquiry’s terms of reference.

Further information

If you have any questions about the inquiry, please email the inquiry team.

We will not be able to support individual cases of racial harassment in this inquiry. If you have experienced discrimination or harassment and need advice and guidance, please contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service.

Last updated: 04 Mar 2019