British universities are a “product of colonialism” and more needs to be done to challenge their “racist structures”, the National Union of Students has said.
Some parts of UK higher education "have propagated systems that assure white privilege" and the system must be "decolonised", according to a new manifesto which sets out the NUS’ priorities.
Earlier this year, Cambridge University announced it is launching an inquiry into how it benefited from the slave trade. It will also probe how far Cambridge academics “reinforced and validated race-based thinking between the 18th and early 20th Century”.
Other leading universities have refused to bow to pressure from decolonisation campaigns aimed at names of buildings and statues, as well as their curriculum.
In a section of the NUS manifesto titled "decolonising our education", it says: "Our educational structures and institutions are a product of colonialism: some have directly profited from this, while others have propagated systems that assure white privilege.
"This is reflected in the racist barriers and structures students face, with the attainment gap the most striking symptom of race inequity.”
The NUS said that universities have recognised that they have a “responsibility to dismantle these systems”. But their manifesto went on to say that institutions are still lacking in a "vision of a truly liberated education, one that can thrive free from isolated attachment to western narratives".
The NUS said it will support activists "to understand, identify, and actively challenge the racist structures in our colleges and universities".
Their manifesto also examines issues for university students such as funding, accessible and affordable housing and transport, health care and fair access to education.
A spokeswoman for Universities UK, which represents vice-Chancellors, said: "Many institutions have taken on board the need to have a more inclusive curriculum.
"Our work suggests several universities are reviewing their curriculums as well as conducting liberation or decolonisation activities in co-ordination with students' unions and individuals. Many are at the early phase and have not been rolled out across entire institutions."