UNIVERSITY researchers say a new project examining the impact on minority ethnic communities of moving key public services online will play “an important role in tackling racial inequality”.

A consortium led by Heriot-Watt University has launched what it described as the “world-leading study” after winning £3.3 million of funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). The Protecting Minority Ethnic Communities Online (Prime) project was established after a range of key public services moved online – a process accelerated by the pandemic, with people increasingly needing to use the internet.

There are concerns that this change could exacerbate existing inequalities, or lead to discriminatory processes. Ethnic minority communities and individuals are also known to be disproportionately impacted by harms such as cyberbullying, according to reports.

The Prime consortium – which also includes researchers from the Open University and the Universities of Cranfield, Glasgow and York – will work closely with the National Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence online (Rephrain). As part of the work, what has been called a Citizen-led Race Equity Living Lab (CREL) will be set up to help discover how to counter any discriminatory processes in online services.

The current lack of research, policy and practical initiatives in this area means researchers have no solid evidence to base their work on – but researchers say the experience of minority ethnic communities when using online services requires “significant investigation”.