‘Significant but uneven’ progress on tackling sexual misconduct

Many UK universities have already updated or are in the process of reviewing disciplinary procedures

March 28, 2018
sexual abuse and harrassment at universities among students

UK universities’ progress on tackling student sexual misconduct has been described as “significant but highly uneven” in a new report.

Changing the Culture: One Year On assesses the sector’s progress on implementing recommendations from a 2016 Universities UK report which advised institutions on how to address violence against women and introduced new guidelines on how to handle complaints against students.

The new research, conducted by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, examines the experience of 20 higher education providers. Most had either set in place – or were in the process of implementing – improvements designed to raise awareness and encourage reporting of sexual misconduct.

However, seven of the sampled providers were at a considerably earlier stage of developing policy and practice in this area.

“Despite evidence of significant progress being made in implementing the taskforce’s recommendations across the higher education providers participating in the study, it remains highly uneven,” the report says.

This variable response in part reflects how a small minority of the providers were already addressing student sexual misconduct as a priority prior to the publication of the taskforce’s report.

“Conversely, perhaps one-fifth of the providers in the sample have made very limited progress in meeting the recommendations and addressing this agenda, with most of the participating providers somewhere between these extremes,” the report adds.

Most of the participating providers had or were in the process of reviewing their disciplinary procedures, the report says.

Many participants reported an increase in reporting of sexual assault in the past year, and regarded this as a sign of increased awareness and cultural change.

However, there was less evidence of new strategies being developed to address staff-to-student sexual misconduct.

Efforts to address student sexual misconduct tended to have higher priority than tackling hate crime and hate-based harassment, the report says.

Dame Janet Beer, vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool and UUK president, said it was “encouraging to see that significant progress has been made at many universities”.

“Despite this, clearly more needs to be done. There should be a greater focus on tackling staff-to-student sexual misconduct, hate crime and hate-based harassment,” Dame Janet added.

“Ultimately, a long-term commitment by senior leaders will be vital to ensuring further progress in making our universities safe places to live, work and study. We owe it to our staff and students to accelerate the pace of cultural change.”

Sam Gyimah, England’s universities minister, said: “All students should be able to pursue their studies without fear of harassment. Whilst I am pleased to see the strides that have been taken by our universities to ensure this, there is clearly more to be done.”


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