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New survey reveals racial discrimination is alive and well in universities

Posted 23 November 2011 by Adam Frogley (Indigenous)

A survey released today of Indigenous academic and professional staff in higher education has revealed they continue to experience direct discrimination and racist attitudes in our universities.

Racial discrimination and a general lack of cultural respect is not an issue that is confined to wider society; although universities are the bastion of research, learning and teaching, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff members do experience racial discrimination in the workplace.

“While the vast majority of non-Indigenous university staff are not racist or prejudiced; this survey shows a number unfortunately hold racist views,” said Jillian Miller, a staff member at the University of South Australia and Chair of National Tertiary Education Union’s (NTEU) Indigenous Policy Committee.

This survey confirms that racial discrimination does exist in the higher education sector and while all universities have very clear and unambiguous policies committing them to eliminate racial discrimination, transforming these statements into action requires a more concerted effort from university management, said Jeannie Rae, NTEU President.

The survey conducted by the Indigenous Unit of the NTEU, also identified that many Indigenous staff feel they have experienced lateral violence in the workplace at the hands of other Indigenous colleagues, in some cases by individuals that also have management responsibility over those affected. Lateral violence has been defined in US research as “the harmful and undermining practices that members of oppressed groups can engaged in against each other as a result of marginalisation”.

“Racial discrimination, including incidents of lateral violence between Indigenous staff, is of great concern because it undermines the ability of Indigenous academic and professional staff to do their job and has an impact the ability of institutions to retain qualified Indigenous staff.” said Ms Miller.

The findings released today include:

  • 71.5 per cent of respondents have experienced direct discrimination and racist attitudes in the workplace.
  • Only 18.6 per cent stated their employer had taken positive action to address these issues.
  • Approximately 60 per cent of respondents had experienced lateral violence in the workplace.

“Our report is timely given the federal government’s review of higher education access and outcomes for Indigenous people. Less than one per cent of university staff are Indigenous, well down from the population parity figure of 2.5%. Policies aimed at increasing Indigenous participation, no matter how well intentioned, will not work unless steps are also taken to tackle racial discrimination,” concluded Ms Miller


I’m Not a Racist – But... Report on Cultural Respect, Racial Discrimination, Lateral Violence and related policy at Australia’s Universities can be downloaded below. 

For further information and comment:

Jillian Miller, Chair of NTEU Indigenous Policy Committee: 0401 710 693 or 08 8302 9151

Jeannie Rea, NTEU National President: 0434 609 531 or 03 9254 1910,

(4 MB) - PDF

I'm Not A Racist, But...

Report on Cultural Respect, Racial Discrimination, Lateral Violence & Related Policy at Australia’s Universities. Published by the National Indigenous Unit and Indigenous Policy Committee of the NTEU.


  1. Celeste Liddle said on 11:25 Wednesday 30 Nov, 2011

    [ +1 ] @Confused, indeed it was a members' only survey, and the notification of the survey was sent around to the Indigenous members' list several times over the course of 6 months. The closing date was the 31/8 so if you signed up after then you wouldn't have received notification. If you signed up before then however, please email me through your details so I can check and make sure you have been correctly identified on the NTEU database as an Indigenous member.

    With regards to the response rate, it was actually quite high for any university survey. ~60% of members responded, and this equates to 16% of all Indigenous staff employed in the sector. We are encouraging additional commentary so if you would like to send anything through, please do as this work is far from over!

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  2. Confused said on 9:27 Wednesday 30 Nov, 2011

    [ -1 ] Is the survey only done by NTEU Members? Must have been before I signed up a few months back as I never got anything.

    If it is pretty low representation as I know so many others here at Uni who are not part of the union

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  3. Keith said on 17:39 Thursday 24 Nov, 2011

    [ -1 ] Bullying, intimidation and ridicule will always be there. It's the system that lets us down by not giving us the tools for us to deal with it.

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  4. Murri said on 15:36 Thursday 24 Nov, 2011

    [ +4 ] I am also concerned at the level of bullying, intimidation and ridicule that non-Indigenous colleagues face if they attempt to work respectfully beside us - not at the front leading us, or behind us kicking us along, but beside us.
    Racism runs deep in settler Australian society.

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