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Promoting good relations

Fostering good relations can promote tolerance and respect for diversity across staff and student bodies.

HEIs may find this guidance particularly helpful to manage good relations following the EU referendum result especially in relation to its impact on race relations.

Higher and further education institutions have a legal duty to protect their staff and students from discrimination and harassment and to foster good relations between different groups of people with protected characteristics.

From time to time, tensions may emerge on campus that threaten to destabilise good relations. Resolving these tensions, and preventing them where possible, can help to promote a welcoming learning and working environment.

Five key principles for good relations in higher education institutions and colleges:

  • Equality: acting swiftly to challenge discrimination, harassment and bullying in all its manifestations.
  • Respect: framing the right to self-expression within the context of respect for others; encouraging dialogue about the issues that connect and divide individuals and communities, discussing prejudice; challenging preconceptions and assumptions.
  • Security: creating a safe environment for staff and students free from intimidation, harassment and fear; tackling hate crime; challenging views that promote violence or otherwise deny human rights.
  • Unity: providing opportunities to learn about difference and identify common ground; promoting the benefits of developing knowledge and skills that improve personal and communal relationships.
  • Cooperation: taking a proactive approach to conflict resolution that is fair, consistent and transparent.

Advance HE published guidance in 2013:

Promoting good relations on campus: a guide for higher and further education. This includes a range of scenarios covering external speakers, lawful speech, protests, individual and group behaviour, students’ unions, banning groups, displaying literature, which explore the issues and actions institutions might take to manage the situation.

Academic freedom and equality

Alongside their commitment to academic freedom, institutions have legal obligations in relation to equality, human rights and security. Institutions may experience no tension between the right to freedom of speech and academic freedom and the rights of the individual to be protected from discrimination, harassment or fear of violence.

However, on occasions the two positions may be in opposition and institutions should be prepared to take action if ideas or views infringe the rights of others, discriminate against them, or if any activity constitutes a criminal offence or incites others to commit criminal acts.

Dealing with hate crimes and intolerance

The key principle for dealing with hate crimes and intolerance on campus is to understand that all staff and students have the right to work, study and live without fear of intimidation, harassment and threatening or violent behaviour.

The key ingredient for the preservation of academic freedom is tolerance and respect for diversity.

As a general rule, it is recommended that institutions should consider incidents of hate crime and intolerance on a case-by-case basis within the framework of an agreed policy, seeking specific legal advice where necessary.

Strategies for promoting good relations

An effective strategy for promoting good relations on campus should have three sections:

  • immediate action to deal with hate crimes/incidents and other intolerance
  • medium-term action by the institution to tackle specific hate crime and intolerant activity in the wider institutional context
  • long-term activity designed to help promote good relations between all people in the institution

Academic staff

Academic staff have a crucial role to play in ensuring that higher education institutions are inclusive and accessible, and encourage good relations between the diverse groups that study, work, or otherwise engage with them.

Equality and diversity for academics factsheet: promoting good relations

Students’ unions

The management of incidents that threaten good relations will often involve close working with student societies and the students’ union. When a student’s association is a separate entity to the institution with its own charity and legal status, staff with responsibility for working with students’ union officers and student associations will need to understand the institution’s equality responsibilities with regard to student clubs and societies affiliated to the association and using HEI premises.