19 Apr Universities ‘must do more to tackle sexual harassment’
Students must feel confident that they can report incidents of sexual assault or harassment on campus and be listened to, England’s university watchdog says.
The Office for Students (OfS) says it is important students’ reports are “dealt with appropriately”.
The regulator is urging universities to review their sexual misconduct and harassment policies by the summer.
The move comes as more than 80 UK universities were mentioned on a website sharing experiences of abuse.
The website – Everyone’s Invited – has seen students anonymously sharing experiences of sexual harassment, abuse, assault and misogyny.
A number of the UK’s top institutions, including Exeter and Oxford, were mentioned on the website more than 50 times.
Writing in a blog on Monday, OfS chief executive Nicola Dandridge said: ”We still see a lack of consistent and effective systems, policies and procedures across the sector.
“As a result, students continue to report worrying cases that have not been properly addressed by their university or college.”
Ms Dandridge went on: “Students should feel confident reporting and disclosing incidents, knowing that they will be listened to and their reports will be dealt with appropriately.”
Setting out a series of expectations for England’s universities she said: “Over the next year we will examine how universities and colleges have responded.
“We will particularly want to hear from students and students’ unions that things are changing for the better – as part of this process, we will consider options for connecting the statement directly to our conditions of registration.”
“Dealing effectively with harassment and sexual misconduct – wherever it may occur – will require action, commitment and collaboration.
“The result should be that meaningful support is provided to students when they need it, and that all incidents are dealt with effectively and sensitively. That is the least students should expect and we are determined to make sure they get it.”
The OfS has published a statement of expectations, which outlines the “practical steps” universities and colleges should take to tackle harassment and sexual misconduct - including harassment based on age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
For example, all universities and colleges should:
- have processes in place to allow students to report and disclose any incidents
- work to minimise potential barriers to reporting and disclosing
- ensure investigatory procedures are fair and independent, and that those involved get effective pastoral support
- set out behavioural expectations for all students, staff and visitors
- codes of conduct should be made clear to new and continuing students and staff.
Ms Dandridge added: “These expectations provide a standard. It is now for all universities and colleges registered with the OfS to put these principles into practice.”
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson welcomed the expectations set out by the OfS.
“We expect universities to follow these and I would urge all universities to look at this seriously and take appropriate action where necessary.
“No student or young person should ever have to experience abuse, and I urge anyone who feels they have been a victim of sexual harassment to speak to someone they trust, whether that be family, friends, their university or the police.”