The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has announced an independent study into racism at Australian universities.

Backed by a $2.5 million grant from the Commonwealth government, the research initiative will focus on understanding and addressing racism, antisemitism, and Islamophobia within university environments.

Race Discrimination Commissioner, Giridharan Sivaraman, described the study as “comprehensive”, with both university students and staff contributing their experiences. 

The research aims to identify and address structural racial barriers that impact educational access and employment progression.

“Whether it be international or migrant students, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people or those from racialised backgrounds, and identifiable religious faiths, there are countless stories of discrimination, targeted hate and harm at universities,” Commissioner Sivaraman said.

He added that the study aims to provide evidence and a roadmap for change to end such behaviour.

The study is part of the Albanese Government's response to the Universities Accord and aims to deliver an interim report by 31 December 2024, with a final report due by 30 June 2025. 

Minister for Education Jason Clare emphasised the importance of safety on campuses, saying; “There is no place for antisemitism, Islamophobia or any type of racism in our universities, or anywhere else”,

The announcement comes against a backdrop of escalating tensions at several Australian universities, where pro-Palestine protests have led to significant disruptions. 

At the University of Melbourne, students occupying the Arts West building have been threatened with disciplinary and police action. 

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Prof Michael Wesley stated that protesters who violated the university’s codes of conduct might face criminal charges if they continued to defy orders to leave.

Similar protests have occurred at Deakin University, where students vowed to maintain their encampments despite directives to disband. 

Jasmine Duff, an organiser at Deakin, accused the university of hypocrisy, citing its involvement in weapons research while claiming to prioritise safety.

Monash University has also issued misconduct notices to nine students involved in the protests, with potential suspensions or expulsions pending. 

The Australian National University (ANU) has requested that pro-Palestinian students disband their camps, citing health and safety concerns.

These protests have highlighted a growing divide between university administrations and student activists. 

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has backed the students, supporting their right to protest and calling for the protection of academic freedom and freedom of speech.

The AHRC’s study, focusing on the lived experiences of university students and staff, aims to address these systemic issues and foster safer, more inclusive university environments across Australia. 

The findings will contribute to the development of a National Anti-Racism Framework, reinforcing human rights principles in the higher education sector.