MPs want UK university funding tied to tackling sexual harassment

Women and Equalities Committee call for UK to follow US Title IX example, accusing government, regulators and institutions of ‘passing the buck’

October 23, 2018

A committee of MPs has called for a new law linking public funding for UK universities to “a requirement to prohibit sex discrimination and sexual harassment”, warning that women’s experiences of university are being “blighted” while government, regulators and institutions are “passing the buck”.

The Women and Equalities Committee, chaired by Conservative MP Maria Miller, published its report Sexual Harassment of Women and Girls in Public Places on 23 October. The inquiry came in the wake of the #MeToo movement, but sought to gather evidence about sexual harassment beyond the corridors of power and workplaces, in women’s everyday lives.

“Sexual harassment pervades women’s and girls’ lives and it is doing damage: perpetuating a culture where women are routinely undermined and their confidence damaged through school, university and into work,” says the report. “As such, there needs to be a wider policy response.”

The report received more than 100 written submissions from organisations such as government, police bodies and researchers, as well as holding four oral evidence sessions.

On universities, the report says that “autonomous organisations…and a number of individual institutions are taking a range of actions including developing training and support for staff who receive complaints and new policies on sexual harassment. However, the current voluntary approach has not worked well and there is a great deal of variation in the approach institutions take to students’ welfare.”

The committee criticises the Office for Students, England’s sector regulator, for “not collecting data on sexual harassment or on universities’ actions in this area”. The inquiry took evidence from Yvonne Hawkins, the OfS’ director of teaching excellence and student experience, who said that the regulator does not have “legal duties” in this area.

But the committee says it does “not agree that the Office for Students does not have legal duties in respect of women’s safety at university. It is a public body with obligations under the Public Sector Equality Duty as well as the Human Rights Act 1998 and taking action on the safety and equality of women students should be a priority.”

The MPs highlight the fact that in the US, “Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 is a federal law…that ties federal funding to universities to a prohibition on sex discrimination and harassment, and the Clery Act of 1990 requires federally funded US universities to report their crime statistics in order to provide transparency about student safety”.

The committee cites evidence from Hareem Ghani, formerly the women’s officer at the National Union of Students, who “told us she supported the model in the United States because it puts the onus on the university to make sure there are guidelines in place, and to have a Title IX coordinator, provide survivor support services and take preventative measures”.

The MPs warn that sexual harassment “and other violence against women is blighting women’s experiences of university”, saying that between the government, “regulators and institutions, we have been left with a strong impression of passing the buck on who is responsible for women’s safety at university”.

In one of its recommendations, the committee says that: “The government should put in place legal obligations that mirror provisions in the US to link state funding with a requirement to prohibit sex discrimination and sexual harassment, and to collect and publish data on the effectiveness of institutional policies. This could be done by introducing regulations under [section] 153 of the Equality Act 2010.”

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Reader's comments (2)

Of course this would have more teeth if there was any serious commitment from government to actually fund universities properly...
Title IX consists of thirty-seven words: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Seems simple doesn't it, no wonder the MP's like it, it appeals to their simple minds? The reality is rather different, with feminist female professors just as likely to end up being victims of the process that has evolved, Laura Kipnis and Patti Alder being prime examples. UUK's taskforce and guidance already exists, and is thought by some to already have too much over-reach, with the extra judicial kangaroo courts Title IX created in the US that over-reach and mission creep now stifles academic discourse and research, do we really want to follow such a bad example?