Say no to bad behaviour

July 7, 2006

A new book highlighting the shocking extent of student violence against university staff calls for a "zero tolerance" campaign, such as those seen in the retail trade and in the National Health Service, writes Phil Baty.

The book, University Students Behaving Badly , by sociologist Deborah Lee, reveals cases of physical attacks, stalking, verbal abuse and unwanted sexual attention, and details the effect these had on their victims in the university sector. It even reports a case where guns and knives were found in a hall of residence.

Dr Lee, senior lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, said that her qualitative study meant there was now "sufficient information available to try to set up a campaign against violence in UK higher education". It was based on interviews with 22 self-selected victims combined with evidence taken from a 2005 Times Higher study of violent incidents.

The book says: "The Times Higher has made a valuable contribution to raising awareness of this newly identified social problem in higher education and this should now be translated into action.

Dr Lee proposes an initiative in the model of the NHS's "zero tolerance" campaign against violence against hospital staff - it is made clear to all patients and visitors that any assaults on staff are likely to lead to prosecution.

The Times Higher 's 2005 report used the Freedom of Information Act to establish that there had been more than 1,000 recorded incidents of student aggression towards university staff in the previous five years.

Roger Kline, head of employment rights at the University and College Union, said: "Universities have a general duty of care to protect their staff, and specific duties under bullying and harassment policies to stop this happening."

  • He began shouting at me - did I know who his father was?I He kept shouting and shouting, and shouting even more. I became increasingly uncomfortable... And then he came at me."
  • "For about the next four months, Sally was following me around. She was everywhere I went; the phone on my desk would constantly ring..."
  • "His face was blood red. The whole incident culminated in him actually knocking me over because he got so angry."
  • "During one of the presentations... one of the men dropped his trousers and stuck his backside up in the air. I turned round because there was pandemonium going on..."
  • "Usually the cleaners say to me, 'that so-and-so has got a gun'... None of them have been used in a threatening manner, but you wonder - how long before somebody does?"

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