The government has ordered the formation of a task force to tackle violence against women, and “lad culture”, on UK university campuses.
Jo Johnson, the universities minister, said that the group would “make sure that the universities are doing all they can to meet their legal obligations” to protect women, and “see where they can go further”.
Universities UK has been asked to convene the task force, which is expected to assemble in the autumn and work over a 12-month period.
The government’s move comes amid growing concern about excessive drinking and lewd behaviour on campus, which have been linked to cases of sexual harassment and assault.
The Hidden Marks survey, conducted by the National Union of Students, found that one in seven female respondents had experienced a serious physical or sexual assault during their time as a student. More than two-thirds had experienced harassment, including groping and unwanted sexual comments, and 12 per cent had been subjected to stalking.
Sajid Javid, the business secretary, said that “nobody should be put off going to university because of fears about their safety”.
“This task force will ensure that universities have a plan to stamp out violence against women and provide a safe environment for all their students,” he said. “We do not tolerate this behaviour in any part of society and I’m not prepared to let it take place on university campuses unchecked.”
In a letter to Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of UUK, the task force is asked to develop a code of practice for institutions to support cultural change.
The group is also asked to explore how a kitemark scheme could be developed and awarded to successful institutions, and to ensure best use of existing complaints mechanisms, such as the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.
In a blog published on 3 September, Ms Dandridge said that the higher education sector needed to have “open and honest discussions” about what lad culture meant, and where the limits of free speech lie.
But she said that universities were already “taking a proactive role in working out solutions and tackling the issues, often working in partnership with each other”.