Racial harassment is taking place at an “alarmingly high rate” across British universities, 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).
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 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 organisation’s president, Professor Julia Buckingham, said: “Universities UK will today be urgently seeking independent, external expertise to strengthen our new group on tackling racial harassment to advise universities on effective actions and how to scrutinise and challenge action plans.
“And I am calling on my fellow university leaders to make this a top priority, starting by committing publicly to taking urgent action in their institution and ensuring staff and students know how to report incidents and how to access the support available to them.”