Exclusive: Universities are still using meagre fines to punish racist students

One university puts the money into a fund which buys ping pong tables

A pair of universities have used small fines to punish racism by students this academic year.

Nottingham and Reading still hand out financial penalties for campus racism, despite most other universities foregoing or explicitly disavowing the practice.

In one case, the money raised from fines went towards a fund used in part to purchase ping pong tables.

The Tab obtained the figures using Freedom of Information requests. The majority of universities withheld exact numbers and specific details of the fines.

Nottingham used fines for racial harassment in fewer than seven cases in 2019/20, at an estimated average of £62.

Reading issued fewer than five £500 fines for racism this year, the maximum fine allowed by the university’s disciplinary procedures.

Racist incidents at uni have been widespread over the last few years – with incidents at Exeter and Nottingham Trent leading to students being kicked out.

A quarter of students from an ethnic minority background experience racism at uni, a report by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission found last year. Yet only a third report racial harassment to their university, with a lack of confidence in the system cited as the most common reason for holding back.

The overwhelming majority of universities don’t give out fines for racism. Some even specifically rule out fines as a punishment for student misconduct of any kind, saying they’re inappropriate.

The money raised by these fines does not go to the victims of the racist acts. In the case of Reading, the money collected by the university to punish racism could even have been spent on ping pong tables.

Reading told The Tab: “All fines are paid into the Student Halls of Residence amenity fund which is there to improve the experience of students living in halls (for example; to buy benches, ping pong tables).”

Nottingham stresses it “does not profit from the funds raised from the discipline fines as the money is put into the Student Hardship Fund.”

Alongside fines, it’s unclear which other punishments – if any-  are given to the students in each case. Universities cited data protection laws as a reason not to give specifics. However, Nottingham commented generally that it will apply additional sanctions including expulsion, fines, warnings, and education programmes where possible.

Reading did not provide any details of other punishments given alongside the racism fine.

Elsewhere, fines have been used in the past for high-profile incidents. Exeter issued six fines for racism in 2017/18, totalling £2,300 – an average of £383. Although not explicitly stated in the university’s response to The Tab, this appears to be punishment for the students involved in the racist law group chat.

In May 2018, the university announced it had suspended and expelled some of the – originally thought to be five – students involved in the chat. Others received suspensions or “significant sanctions”, but it was not known who received which punishment. These new statistics suggest each person sanctioned was hit with a fine, regardless of other punishments applied.

Nottingham Trent also issued an unspecified number of fines – none larger than £500 – for racist hate in 2017/18. During that academic year, two freshers at the university were arrested after chanting “we hate the blacks” at the door of a black student.

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