In the BBC Three documentary Is Uni Racist?, Richardson said "there’s mixed experiences, but many aren’t good. There is a lot of evidence that points towards universities perpetuating systemic racism, being institutionally racist and I have acknowledged that on behalf of the sector".
He added that “perhaps governing bodies are concerned about the reputational impact of the university being seen to be a place that was institutionally racist. I think five years ago people, leaders, universities would not have called this problem out".
In November last year, Richardson and Universities UK published guidance and recommendations to encourage institutions to improve their tackling of racism, such as by engaging with those who have been affected.
Journalist Linda Adey, the presenter of Is Uni Racist?, investigated how racism is dealt with on campus by speaking not only with Richardson, but also with students who had experienced racism themselves.
Zac Adan was one such student. He said he was racially profiled by security officers at the University of Manchester who pinned him against a wall and accused him of being a drug dealer. The University announced an investigation after a video of the incident went viral. Many online called for Dame Nancy Rothwell, Vice-Chancellor and President, to resign.
Adey submitted Freedom of Information requests to 140 universities, of which 93 responded with the number of cases of racism that had been reported over the last five years. Cardiff University, a member of the Russell Group, was the third highest on the list.
Richardson acknowledged that “racial harassment in universities is under-reported” and as such, the actual figures could be much higher. “I think that historically, students who experienced racial harassment have not felt able to report it or felt safe to report it for various reasons”.
This is supported by earlier research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission from 2019, where, according to the documentary “two thirds of students who said they had experienced racial harassment did not report it to their university, with some concerned about being called a ‘troublemaker’, having the complaint impact their course, or believing that the university wouldn’t take it seriously.”
David Richardson thought it disappointing that some students were put off from complaining to their institution over concerns for their grades: “we need to acknowledge that and put in place better support to make them feel safe and to help them be reassured that this will not damage their grades,” he said.
Writing for the BBC, Adey points to a clear conclusion in the research: “students of colour in the UK feel that much more needs to be done to protect them.”