A landmark commitment from Scotland’s universities and colleges to support a declaration against racism.

The declaration is endorsed by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and Richard Lochhead, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science. It will be launched via a webinar this week, Friday 14 August.

Racism exists on our campuses and in our society.  Call it what it is and reject it in all its forms. We stand united against racism.

The call to sign-up to this declaration is a key milestone in the project funded by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) to tackle racism in Scotland’s colleges and universities: Tackling racism on campus: Raising awareness and creating the conditions for confident conversations.

The project, which is being run by Advance HE and led by the Race Project Steering Group of EDI practitioners, academics, tertiary education staff and students, was launched by SFC in response to the 2019 Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report, Tackling racial harassment: Universities challenged. The report revealed that racial harassment was a common but significantly under-reported experience for students and staff:

• 24% of students from an ethnic minority background reported they had experienced racial harassment; 1 in 20 students said racism had made them leave their studies

• More than a quarter of staff said they had experienced racist name-calling, insults and jokes; 3 in 20 said racial harassment caused them to leave their jobs

The report also found that many universities seriously underestimate the prevalence of racial harassment and are over-confident in their complaint handling processes.

To date, the project has focused on developing evidence-based resources to be used by Scotland’s universities and colleges as they respond the findings highlighted by the EHRC. The work to produce resources has been complemented by a webinar series ‘Critical Conversation on Racism.’ Now the Race Project Steering Group aims to shift the focus from critical conversation to calling on universities and colleges to take critical action.

Khadija Mohammed, Steering Group Chair, said:

‘We see this as a ‘one chance’ opportunity to address racial discrimination in the sector. We need collective action, agency and responsibility. From critical conversations to critical actions, this webinar brings together Principals from the HE/FE sector to declare their commitment to tackling racism on our campuses. Indeed, taking this declaration to address racism is testament to the shared agency and leadership we hoped to achieve across the HE/FE sector. This marks a new beginning – a call for acknowledgement, action and accountability.’

Dr Donna MacKinnon, Director of Access, Learning and Outcomes at the Scottish Funding Council, said:

‘Striving towards equality should be at the heart of further and higher education in Scotland. However, last year’s report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission showed there is still a long way to go.

‘The declaration against racism is a welcome and meaningful step and the Scottish Funding Council will do everything it can to help the declaration to become a reality and bring an end to racism on our campuses and in our society.’

Professor Gerry McCormac, Convenor, Universities Scotland, and Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Stirling, said:

‘I recognise my responsibility as a sector leader and university Principal, to work to eradicate racism in all of its forms and support an anti-racist agenda in higher education. I see the declaration against racism as a milestone in the sector’s journey of increased understanding and action. It is not a time to pause; it is a time for all those with a leadership role in higher education to recognise how far we still have to go and to commit to accelerate our actions. We must continue to take concrete steps to address the systemic issues in higher education that perpetuate inequality and deliver meaningful change so that our students and staff do not fear prejudice and are fully empowered in their place of study or work. To achieve this, we need to listen, be prepared to do so humbly, and to act. Only then can we create a higher education sector where everyone is able to realise their true potential.

‘I want to thank Khadija and the members of Advance HE’s steering group for the work and the leadership that has led to this declaration and the programme of work that is to be delivered in Scotland’s higher education sector from the autumn onwards. Advance HE’s programme will complement ongoing work within institutions and help to situate race and anti-racism at the centre of Scottish higher education, providing a mechanism for culture change at all levels.’

Jim Metcalfe, Chief Executive of College Development Network said:

‘CDN fully supports the upcoming We Stand Against Racism webinar, which will explore how we can stand against racism through collaborative approaches across Scotland’s university and college sectors. It is vital that we address any racial discrimination in our sectors, and to do this we must have open, honest conversations, and listen to those that have experienced, or who are currently experiencing racism. We must find ways to work together.’

David Bass, Advance HE’s Assistant Director, Membership in Scotland, said:

‘We are very proud to be part of the response that the sectors in Scotland are making to the EHRC report. Now we need to work together and ‘live’ this declaration by using the resources at our disposal to relentlessly tackle racism head-on, educating, challenging, and then eradicating it. I’m confident that every college and university will respond to this call.’

The webinar The Journey from Critical Conversations to Critical Action: We stand united against racism will be led by Dr Donna MacKinnon, Director of Access, Learning and Outcomes, Scottish Funding Council; Professor Craig Mahoney, Vice Chancellor, University of the West of Scotland; Paul Little, Principal and CEO, City of Glasgow College; Khadija Mohammed, Project Steering Group Chair; Professor Rowena Arshad, CERES Chair, University of Edinburgh. Join the webinar, Friday 14 August, 10:00-11:45 BST.