Bullying of LGBT students leading to dropouts

European study sounds the alarm over how mistreatment can harm retention

February 19, 2015

Clear evidence that many LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students drop out of courses due to bullying means the issue should be a major concern for universities, quite apart from their duty of care.

That was among the points raised in a series of presentations at the Society for Research into Higher Education last week on the overt and hidden challenges faced by LGBT students in the UK.

All the presentations were linked to an ongoing research project, “From Freshers’ Week to Finals: using LGBT student perspectives of higher education to inform research and practice”, being carried out by Sheffield Hallam University with support from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Youth and Student Organisation (IGLYO), the National Union of Students, the SRHE and others.

Eleanor Formby, a senior research fellow at Sheffield Hallam, presented results from a cross-European survey she had carried out for IGLYO. While it seemed to be true that “LGBT students overall…had a positive view of higher education”, 6 per cent of her sample “had ‘dropped out’ of university as a result of their experiences” and 19 per cent felt that “their ability to gain employment had been affected by prior experiences of bullying or discrimination”.

Yet even bullying could have a positive impact, with one respondent reporting an incident that led him or her “to retaliate with an ‘I’ll show them’ attitude, causing me to aim higher”.

It remained clear, however, that “LGBT experiences may directly impact upon retention rates”. That alone, in Ms Formby’s view, made the issue “reason for university concern…aside from the obvious well-being and rights-based arguments”.

Michael Keenan, lecturer in sociology at Nottingham Trent University, also reported on the results of an online questionnaire and follow-up focus groups he had used to examine the ways that universities can be seen as both “a site of diversity” and “a site of bullying, discrimination and sidelining – focussing on heterosexist and macho cultures”.

While almost 89 per cent of his respondents described their fellow students as generally “accepting”, this concealed worrying cases of LGBT students being treated as “exotic”, “erotic” or “other”.

Meanwhile, Vicky Gunn, head of learning and teaching at Glasgow School of Art, said that she was keen to look at “opportunities for agency as well as alienation” in the experience of LGBT students, noting how their “attempts to make meaning in a different way” could lead to the kind of “radical and subversive questioning” essential for original thinking in any academic discipline.


Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs


Greenwich School Of Management Ltd

PhD Research Fellow in Medical Physics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Senior Knowledge Officer

European Association For International Education

Postdoctoral position in Atmospheric and Space Physics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu
See all jobs

Most Commented

Doctoral study can seem like a 24-7 endeavour, but don't ignore these other opportunities, advise Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman

Matthew Brazier illustration (9 February 2017)

How do you defeat Nazis and liars? Focus on the people in earshot, says eminent Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt

Improvement, performance, rankings, success

Phil Baty sets out why the World University Rankings are here to stay – and why that's a good thing

Warwick vice-chancellor Stuart Croft on why his university reluctantly joined the ‘flawed’ teaching excellence framework

people dressed in game of thrones costume

Old Germanic languages are back in vogue, but what value are they to a modern-day graduate? Alice Durrans writes