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Tackling sexual harassment and violence

How higher and further education institutions can protect their students from harassment and abuse.

Higher and further education institutions have a responsibility to protect their students and staff from harassment and abuse, and have a duty of care towards their students and staff.

There has recently been considerable press coverage of student sexual harassment and sexual violence, in particular on university campuses. Students, campaign groups, the NUS and MPs have called for universities and the HE sector to put in place policies and practices that will ensure the safety of all students.

In May 2015 ECU hosted a sector roundtable to discuss these issues, as well as the related issue of lad culture. ECU brought together a range of interested organisations and individuals from the sector with the following aims.

  • Sharing the work that is already happening within the sector to tackle these issues.
  • Identify if there are areas where we could collaborate and support each other’s work.
  • Identify any gaps in tackling these issues, and discuss how to address identified gaps in provision, and who might be best placed to take this work forward.

In November 2015 Universities UK established a taskforce to examine violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting students. Violence against women and sexual harassment are key focuses of the taskforce. ECU fed into the work of the taskforce and we have been represented on the taskforce by our then Chair of the Board Porfessor Janet Beer. We continue to be involved with the work of the taskforce. In October 2016 the taskforce published the report of the taskforce, which includes recommendations to universities on dealing with violence against women and harassment.

The taskforce also led to new Guidance for Higher Education Institutions: how to handle alleged student misconduct which may also constitute a criminal offence, drafted by Pinsent Masons LLP. These replace the guidelines found in the 1994 Final Report of the Task Force on Student Disciplinary Procedures, commonly referred to as the Zellick Report.

ECU is continuing to feed into UUK’s work and we are currently considering how we can best support the sector to take the recommendations of the taskforce forward.

Examples of emerging practice

ECU’s roundtable and UUK’s taskforce have both highlighted that there is already a lot of work taking place within institutions. These have been particularly highlighted in a directory of case studies published by Universities UK in July 2017. The directory includes case studies in the following areas:

  • Commitment from senior leadership and ensuring an institution-wide approach
  • Prevention of incidents
  • Enabling an effective response: reporting and support processes
  • Recording incidents
  • Student and staff training
  • Effective external relationships
  • Online harassment and hate crime reporting

The directory of case studies will continue to grow as institutions continue to develop their thinking and practice, and share their experiences with the sector. Any institution wishing to submit further case studies can get in touch with Fiona Waye at Universities UK on Fiona.Waye@universitiesuk.ac.uk.

There is also work happening in Scotland to tackle sexual harassment and violence in higher education institutions. This includes Equally Safe in Higher Education, a Scottish Government-funded project at the University of Strathclyde. This project has produced a review of Scottish Higher Education Responses to Gender Based Violence which covers the UK and Scottish context and highlights work on policy, prevention and intervention in Scottish higher education institutions.