The accusation comes after a survey conducted by YouthSight for The Daily Telegraph suggested that one in three female students has experienced sexual assault or abuse while at university.
Speaking to Times Higher Education, NUS president Toni Pearce said that she was amazed by the lack of action taken by higher education institutions on the issue of sexual assault.
“I think it is incredible that many institutions seem prepared to ignore the assault and harassment that is a sad reality for some students,” she said.
Half the women questioned in the survey said that they, or someone they knew, had experienced unwelcome sexual advances while at university. A third of the men reported experiencing the same thing.
Overall, 34 per cent of those surveyed said that they had experienced some sort of abuse while 43 per cent of women and 60 per cent of men who suffered abuse said that they did not report the incident, even to friends and family.
Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England, told the Telegraph that the research demonstrated that “sexual coercion and assault in universities is clear and rapidly growing”.
The End Violence Against Women Coalition, a coalition of charitable organisations, warned that universities may be shirking their legal responsibilities on the issue by refusing to investigate the incidents, according to the newspaper.
Research published by the NUS last September found that a quarter of students had experienced unwelcome sexual advances, including 12 per cent of men and 37 per cent of women.
At the time the union bemoaned the rise of “laddism” at universities and attitudes that “belittle, dismiss, joke about or even seem to condone rape and sexual assault”.
The report found that 51 per cent of women and 33 per cent of men felt that material used to promote student events and nightlife that had sexualised images of women made them feel uncomfortable.
Six in 10 of the respondents to the NUS survey said that they were unaware of policies or codes of conduct governing behaviour at their university or student union.
Responding to the figures published by the Telegraph, Ms Pearce said that it was time for higher education institutions to take action on the issue of assault and harassment.
“It’s not enough to deplore it, we need action against it. I now reiterate my call for universities to join us in our work to ensure that the UK student experience is safe and inclusive. We are all responsible for this,” she said.