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New report explores experience of Black students in UK student accommodation

3 February 2022

  • New report explores previously under-researched area – the experience of Black students in UK university halls and private purpose-built student accommodation
  • Research raises cause for concern – over half of Black students have experienced racism in their student accommodation
  • Report calls on higher education sector to come together to address issues – with 10 key recommendations outlined
  • Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), the National Union of Students (NUS) and Universities UK all respond

A new report ‘Living Black at University’ examines the experiences of Black students living in student accommodation in the UK.

The research, commissioned by Unite Students and carried out by Halpin Partnership, draws on qualitative and quantitative field research with students and accommodation staff in university and private halls of residence, with the majority of respondents (72%) living in the university halls.

In conclusion, it calls for UK universities and accommodation providers to collaborate in taking bold decisive action to address the issues.

In the first research of its kind to focus on the experiences of Black students living in student accommodation, the report uncovers some causes of concern including clear evidence of the experience of racism amongst Black students living in student accommodation and unclear processes for reporting concerns.

Key findings

Key findings in the report include:

  • More than half (54%) of Black students surveyed report having been the victim of some form of racism in their accommodation and over two thirds (64%) of all student respondents report having witnessed acts of racism.
  • Black students report an overall less positive experience in their accommodation, compared to White students in terms of a lower sense of belonging, comfort, safety and security. Only 43% of Black students surveyed feel a sense of belonging in their accommodation.
  • Three-quarters of Black students report some level of impact on their mental health due to racism. This was compounded by a lack of support and difficulties in finding Black counsellors who had the experience to understand the impact of racism.
  • Less than half (45%) of Black students agree with the following statement: “There is a zero-tolerance policy on racism in my accommodation” .
  • Some focus group respondents said the whole university feels like a ‘white space’ because of the lack of racial diversity among academic and support staff.

In response to the findings, the report calls on the UK higher education sector and student accommodation providers to collaborate in their approach to dealing with the issues.


Ten key recommendations for providers of student accommodation are outlined in the report:

  1. Universities and accommodation providers should collaborate to eliminate racism from all areas of the student experience, including student accommodation.
  2. Improve acclimatisation and integration activities for all new students and extend the period over which these activities take place.
  3. Introduce meaningful race training for peers and staff.
  4. Accommodation providers should confirm a commitment to tackling racism, both in their internal policies and in their student behavioural agreement or charter.
  5. Recruit staff in accommodation that reflect the diversity of the student body.
  6. Universities and accommodation providers should work together to create intentionally diverse and inclusive student accommodation.
  7. Universities and accommodation providers should collaborate to ensure mental health and wellbeing support is available, accessible and appropriate for Black students.
  8. Ensure there are clear and accessible policies and procedures (including anonymous reporting) to deal explicitly with racism in accommodation.
  9. Accommodation providers should routinely collect, analyse and publish  relevant data on the racial diversity of their residents and employees, as well as outcomes of reporting and investigation of complaints.
  10. Accommodation providers should work to build a relationship of trust with Black students.

Unite Students is committed to taking action in a number of ways, including:

  • Setting up a national working group to help implement the report’s recommendations.
  • Working together with Newcastle University on a pilot project to put the report’s recommendations into practice within student accommodation.
  • Exploring how it can fund the tuition of therapists of Black heritage so students suffering the effects of racism can be better supported.

Commenting on the report’s findings, Richard Smith, Chief Executive at Unite Students, said:

“This report highlights some significant challenges which can only be addressed in partnership across the UK higher education sector. We are committed to making our accommodation a safe, inclusive and welcoming home for all students.

“On the back of these findings, we have kickstarted a project with Newcastle University to put in place a pilot project in the city which addresses the report’s recommendations.

“We look forward to working with the wider higher education sector to make change.”

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, vice president higher education at the National Union of Students (NUS), said:

“For a long time, the experiences of students in student accommodation have been overlooked and disconnected from the broader university experience. This is particularly true for Black students, who often speak of high levels of racism in and at university, including in their accommodation.

“More needs to be done to support Black students across higher education. This is a good opportunity to look at how we can truly tackle racism at every level of the university experience.”

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), said:

“The impact of racism on the non-academic aspects of student life has been largely ignored to date. That is why this report is so vitally important. Where you live, who you live with and how safe you feel in your accommodation are crucial to student success.”

Professor David Richardson, vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia and chair of Universities UK advisory group to tackle racial harassment in higher education, said:

“Everyone in the university community has the right to a safe and positive experience free from racism, however sadly we know there is still a long way to go to ensure this is the case.

“This report makes an important contribution to our understanding of the scale of the challenge, and it is deeply worrying to see the proportion of students who report being a victim of racism in their accommodation. It’s another reminder that we must keep collectively working on tackling racism throughout higher education.”

Full report is available to download here


For further information, please contact

Unite Students press office on 0117 4506300 or email



Notes to Editors

The research methodology

The research team adopted a mixed methodology, drawing on both qualitative and quantitative field research with students and accommodation staff. The research spanned both university halls and the breadth of the private purpose-built student accommodation sector, with the majority of respondents having lived in university halls.

All data points used in the report have been tested for statistical significance by the research team and are significant to the 95% confidence level or greater.

About Unite Students

Unite Students is the UK’s largest owner, manager and developer of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) serving the country’s world-leading higher education sector. We provide homes to 73,000 students across 173 properties in 25 leading university towns and cities. We currently partner with over 60 universities across the UK.

Our people are driven by a common purpose: to provide a ‘Home for Success’ for the students who live with us. Unite Students’ accommodation is safe and secure, high quality, and affordable. Students live predominantly in en-suite study bedrooms with rents covering all bills, insurance, 24-hour security and high-speed Wi-Fi. We also achieved a five-star British Safety Council rating in our last audit in 2020.

We are committed to raising standards in the student accommodation sector for our customers, investors and employees. This is why our new Sustainability Strategy, launched in 2021, includes a commitment to become net zero carbon across our operations and developments by 2030.

Founded in 1991 in Bristol, the Unite Group is an award-winning Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT), listed on the London Stock Exchange. For more information, visit Unite Group’s corporate website or the Unite Students’ site

About Halpin Partnership

Halpin is a values-driven management consultancy that’s tailored to the unique needs of the higher education sector. Home to a community of senior-level HE experts spanning all areas of university leadership, they offer a wide range of services to support Strategy & Transformation, Governance & Policy and Fundraising.

Founded in 2017 by Joint CEOs Susie Hills and Shaun Horan, Halpin has already clocked up over 130 projects for more than 70 clients in the UK and Ireland. It is now home to over 70 Consulting Fellows and Senior Advisors who have been hand-picked for their depth of knowledge and experience, and regularly share their insight and sector commentary via the Halpin ‘Debate’ page.

Find out more about what Halpin does here.

About Universities UK

Universities UK is the collective voice of 140 universities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Its mission is to create the conditions for UK universities to be the best in the world; maximising their positive impact locally, nationally and globally. Universities UK acts on behalf of universities, represented by their heads of institution.

Later this year Universities UK will be publishing further work as a follow-up to its guidance on addressing racial harassment, and on the ethnicity degree awarding gap. UUK plans to use this report to inform that work.