OfS trials surveying students on prevalance of sexual misconduct

English regulator expects to publish the outcomes of its consultation on sexual misconduct in the coming months

September 25, 2023
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The Office for Students has launched a pilot survey on the prevalence of sexual misconduct within English universities as it continues to mull over its plans to place restrictions on staff-student sexual relationships.

The regulator is currently reviewing responses to its consultation from earlier this year on harassment and sexual misconduct and expects to publish the outcomes in the coming months.

Its preferred option is to require institutions to keep a register of all staff-student relationships, but an outright ban – which some academics said might be less “confusing” – could still be implemented.

The OfS had also previously said that it would introduce a condition of registration for providers, alongside a survey of students, with the aim of identifying universities where there is “high prevalence and low reporting”.

That survey – the first time a poll of such scale has been carried out in the UK – has now been launched across 13 higher education providers that volunteered to participate.

All students at the participating providers will be invited to complete the survey and to answer questions about their experiences of sexual misconduct, how these experiences have affected their lives and studies, and their experiences of using the reporting mechanisms at their university.

The OfS said it has worked with academics and practitioners with expertise in research into sexual misconduct to develop the survey, which will be conducted by an independent research organisation, IFF Research.

Susan Lapworth, the OfS chief executive, said: “We know that sexual misconduct can have a devastating impact on the lives of students and damage their education.

“But we don’t know enough about how often it happens, where it happens, and who it happens to.

“The launch of today’s pilot prevalence survey is an important step in addressing these gaps in the evidence base and improving our understanding of the experiences of students across England.”

Ms Lapworth said the responses will be used to secure further progress for all students on a very important issue.

Research has shown that students are three times more likely to experience incidents such as sexual assault, and demonstrating progress in this area is being made a condition of registration by the OfS after it found some providers were not doing enough to tackle harassment.

If registration conditions are breached, the OfS has the power to levy fines against universities, or even block their students from accessing Student Loans Company funding.

The higher education providers taking part in the pilot survey are: Arts University Plymouth; Buckinghamshire New University; De Montfort University; Hartpury University; Northumbria University; Richmond American University London; SAE Institute; St Mary’s University, Twickenham; the University of Essex; the University of Hull; the University of Roehampton; the University of Westminster; and the University for the Creative Arts.


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