The Office for Students has published a consultation on its proposed set of expectations for how universities and colleges should deal with reports of harassment and sexual misconduct.
Responding, Rachel Watters, NUS Women's Officer, said:
"We need urgent responses to tackle sexual harassment and violence in colleges and on campus. Historically, efforts towards tackling issues of sexual violence on university campuses have been shouldered by the most marginalised students.
“Students expect their universities to support them if they experience sexual violence and harassment and ensure the safety of students when it happens. OfS is making it clear that these expectations are part of existing regulation, but unless universities can become safe environments to study in further action must be taken.
“There has been some work done to improve university reporting and disciplinary procedures, provide support for student survivors, train staff members in handling cases of harassment and hate crime, and deliver workshops to transform university cultures. Whilst this is incredibly encouraging, more needs to be done and we hope they are the beginning of lasting institutional commitments and campaigning work to eradicate these issues.”
The Office for Students' expectations for how universities and colleges should deal with reports of harassment and sexual misconduct include:
- Provision of easy to understand information for students and staff on how they can report, disclose or seek support if they experience or witness any incident of harassment or sexual misconduct
- An investigatory process that is fair, independent, and free from any reasonable perception of bias
- In the event of a disclosure, those involved have access to appropriate support prior to, during, and following any formal investigation.
The statement of expectations also includes recommendations which focus on prevention and awareness raising in universities and colleges. For example, it is proposed that universities and colleges should:
- Clearly set out behavioral expectations for prospective and current students, staff and visitors, and the possible sanctions that can be imposed where these are not followed
- Make training available for all staff and students to help prevent incidents and encourage reporting – for example bystander initiatives and consent workshops
- Ensure that activities to tackle harassment and sexual misconduct are embedded across the university or college with oversight from senior leadership.