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Safeguarding students and changing the culture

15 November 2017
Fiona Waye

Fiona Waye

Senior Policy Lead - Inclusion, Equality and Diversity
Universities UK

​This November, university and student leaders, along with 160 expert practitioners from the higher education sector and specialist organisations, attended UUK's second conference on addressing harassment, hate crime, and gender-based violence.

The conference is part of UUK's commitment to working with the sector to promote and share practice across our institutions, following the publication in 2016 of the UUK Taskforce's report, Changing the cultureupdated guidance and UUK's Directory of case studies in July 2017. ​

Here's a summary of some of the key discussions that took place:

  • Professor Adam Tickell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sussex, opened the conference by providing an honest critique of the university's response to a sexual assault incident between a member of staff and a student in 2016, and his decision to adopt an institution wide approach to addressing sexual harassment. He acknowledged that universities must be open and supportive to survivors and prevent alleged perpetrators from retraumatising. Although he was quick to say that the progress being at Sussex was due to staff willing to provide support in his institution, the leadership shown by Professor Tickell in owning this agenda goes to the heart of UUK's recommendations.         

  • Professor Janet Beer, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor the University of Liverpool, emphasised that students can only have a safe and positive experience if we all own this agenda. Professor Beer set out UUK's work since the last conference and priorities for this year which includes work to address staff-student sexual misconduct and addressing cyberbulling.  She also highlighted the importance of institutional culture. Having policies and strategies in place to address harassment is not enough! Her full speech is available here. ​

  • A panel of speakers explored how to manage and align criminal and university investigations. All panelists emphasised the importance of being led by the survivor in terms of action taken by the institution. Kim Doyle, specialist in addressing sexual violence, reminded delegates of their responsibilities when handling disclosures and the importance of having effective case management systems in place and having a single point of contact to support survivors.. Professor Graham Towl from Durham pointed out that we must publicly acknowledge that an increase in reporting rates is a positive step and we must challenge media narratives that those universities with the highest reporting levels have the biggest problems. 

  • Shakira Martin, NUS President, opened by stating that the report by the UUK Taskforce was transformational in moving this agenda forward. However, universities, students' unions, and others such as the police must do more to eradicate sexual violence and assault through preventative strategies.  Shakira also highlighted the importance of universities adopting an intersectional approach – we all have multiple identities and can suffer harassment on many accounts.​

  • Dr Tiffany Page and I spoke briefly about how to address staff to student misconduct. The work that both UUK and The 1752 Group is ongoing in this area and a roundtable discussion held by UUK in June this year revealed that there was a lack of understanding, or misunderstanding, of what is meant by sexual misconduct and about professional behavioural expectations among some students and staff. 

  • The final panel of the day consisted of representatives from three different faith groups on how universities can tackle faith-based harassment. All three speakers highlighted that hate crime was on the increase and that more needs to be done to raise student awareness about hate crime.    ​

Over the next year UUK will continue to work with university leaders, expert practitioners and students' unions to harness the momentum across the sector to doing more. As James Stirling, Provost of Imperial College London stated in a blog​ last year: "...the culture and values of our own institution, reflected in the attitudes and behaviour of our community, are as important a part of "excellence" as successes in the laboratory, examination room or on the sports field."    

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K M Enayet Hossain
K M Enayet Hossain says:
24 November 2017 at 00:26

I think all universities should have complaints handling section regarding sexual and racial harrassment - this section should have access to independant professional advisers to deal with cases that cannot be resolved at the first place. Universities should have regular worshops for students and staff to raise awareness for a culture of tolerance, respect, love and harmony. K M Enayet Hossain, Chief Executive, Total Student Care (TSC)

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