Behaviour survey exposes high levels of staff abuse

September 14, 2007

Issue of student disrespect is being 'swept under the carpet', according to survey author. Tariq Tahir reports

The first survey of students' behaviour towards university staff has revealed the extent to which the latter are subject to harassment, verbal abuse and assault.

More than half the staff responding to the National Student Conduct Survey had experienced student misbehaviour at least five times, while a quarter had encountered physical, verbal or written threats. For 11 per cent of staff experiencing a series of incidents, such events occurred on a daily basis.

The survey was carried out by a team at Nottingham Trent University, led by Deborah Lee from the School of Social Sciences.

Dr Lee presented her findings to the annual Universities Personnel Association (UPA) conference this week. She told The Times Higher it was time universities started to take the issue seriously.

"What this survey has highlighted is that a lot of people working in universities are affected by students' behaviour, but the issue has been swept under the carpet. Universities have to become more open so that when staff report incidents it is not seen as weakness or inadequacy. It does seem that universities are following the path that schools and further education colleges have taken when it comes to students' disruptive behaviour."

In 2005, The Times Higher obtained figures through the Freedom of Information Act that showed there had been 1,000 incidents of student aggression towards staff in the previous five years.

Malcolm Keight, the University and College Union's head of higher education, said: "UCU members are experiencing an increasing lack of respect, and on occasions this can lead to aggressive and threatening behaviour. The findings of the report therefore are disturbing but not altogether surprising."

A Universities UK spokesman said that universities will act when students behave in a criminal way towards staff, who have the right to work without fear of intimidation, harassment and threatening or violent behaviour.

"Higher education institutions have a duty to ensure that all staff and students work in a safe and supportive environment, and they take this responsibility very seriously."

Ama Uzowuru, the National Union of Students' vice-president (welfare), said both staff and students suffer the negative effects of bullying, intimidation, harassment, with the problems caused by a minority.


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