Scotland's higher and further education funding councils could play a key role in stamping out racism by imposing financial penalties on universities and colleges that fail to meet set targets, writes Olga Wojtas.
Delegates at the Rooting Out Racism conference, organised by Lothian and Borders Police and Edinburgh and Lothians Racial Equality Council, were also warned that institutional racism could destroy the lucrative market in overseas students.
Rowena Arshad of Edinburgh University's centre for education, who chaired a workshop with Geoff Palmer of Heriot-Watt University, said promoting racial equality in tertiary education was hampered by the invisibility of racial matters as a field of study.
Ms Arshad said that the race equality advisory forum set up by the Scottish parliament was expected to produce recommendations for the tertiary sector later this month.
She also welcomed the Bett report's recommendation that institutions make a clear statement of their equal opportunities policies and what steps they were taking to ensure equality for women and ethnic minorities.
Institutions should also consider targets appropriate to their own circumstances. "If you start building these things in structurally, people have to think about them," Ms Arshad said.
Professor Palmer said there was a case for setting and monitoring employment targets, and that acts of racism should warrant penalties ranging from severe recorded warning to dismissal.
He also warned of the damage racism could do to the overseas student market, which, he said, was of enormous strategic and economic importance to the United Kingdom. The government wants institutions to increase their share in this market, he said.
"Racism will destroy the overseas market. If people come here and are treated badly, they will not come back, and they will tell other people not to come," he added.