Sexual consent training on two-thirds of UK campuses, survey says

UUK report says progress in implementing new guidance on handling complaints has been more mixed

October 9, 2019
sexual assault, sexual harassment
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Two-thirds of UK higher education institutions that responded to a survey said that they offered consent training in a bid to tackle sexual misconduct on campus, but progress on implementing new guidance on handling complaints has been more mixed.

Universities UK said that institutions had made “positive” progress on tackling harassment since the publication of its 2016 report, Changing the Culture. Sixty-five per cent of the 95 respondents to its survey said that they were now delivering consent training to students, with some making it mandatory and part of a credit-bearing assignment.

Fifty-nine per cent had introduced bystander intervention training, which teaches students how to respond when they witness harassment. Eighty-one per cent of respondents said that they had updated their disciplinary procedures, and the same proportion said that they now offered staff training in responding to reports of misconduct.

But the take-up of new guidance to replace the 1994 Zellick guidelines, under which universities did not launch on-campus investigations into serious alleged offences and left the police to deal with them, was slower. The new guidance asserts that it is no longer appropriate for universities to do nothing in such cases.

Thirty-four per cent of institutions that responded had fully implemented the guidance, with 42 per cent implementing it partially and 19 per cent saying that they had “not yet started”. Five per cent did not give an answer.

The UUK report says that the guidance was “widely welcomed” by the sector, but that it was “evident that there have been some challenges for institutions in responding to the recommendations”.

“This is not surprising, given that the guidance requires significant policy development and changes to structures, systems, processes and procedures, for which there is no precedent or ‘off-the-shelf’ solution,” the report says.

Nearly one in three (31 per cent) respondents said that they would welcome guidance on how to make judgements on incidents – particularly in clarifying whether an offence may be criminal or have legal implications. Key concerns focused on the complexity of investigations and the capacity of staff to cope with the increasing number of reports.

Thirty-eight per cent of respondents requested further guidance on data collection, including on how to share information on the disciplinary process, including the outcome, with a student who had lodged a complaint.

Universities also gave a mixed response on whether they offered an option for anonymous reporting, which the UUK study says many students find “incredibly helpful”. Forty-five per cent of responding institutions did not offer this option, with concerns focusing on how to respond to such complaints and data protection issues.

The vast majority of institutions now had systems in place to properly record incidents, a major change since the original UUK report.

However, the report says that, while there has been a significant focus on sexual harassment and gender-based violence, less priority had been afforded to tackling other forms of harassment, such as racial harassment. UUK said it was creating an advisory group, chaired by David Richardson, vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia, to draw up guidance on preventing and responding to racial harassment.

Julia Buckingham, UUK’s president, said she welcomed actions taken by universities “in addressing some of the issues” raised by Changing the Culture.

“However, it is clear that there is a long way to go in ending harassment and hate crime for good in higher education,” said Professor Buckingham, vice-chancellor of Brunel University London.

“While it is understandable that there has been a particular focus on addressing gender-based violence, it is time for us to step up and make sure the same priority status and resourcing is given to addressing all forms of harassment and hate.”

Universities minister Chris Skidmore said that “while this report shows the progress which has been made, it also highlights the sad truth that there is much further to go to combat the culture of harassment, support those affected and take serious action where needed”.

Mr Skidmore said that it was “simply not good enough” that not all senior leaders had taken ownership of the issue, and urged them “to prioritise a zero tolerance culture to all harassment and hate crime and do all they can to follow these recommendations”.

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