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Education

Harassment and sexual misconduct statement for unis

All higher education students, however and wherever they may be studying, should be protected from harassment and sexual misconduct from other students, staff and visitors, including online. So says the UK regulator the Office for Students (OfS), in a ‘statement of expectations’.

The OfS cannot intervene in a student case to provide resolution; redress should be dealt through a university’s internal complaints processes. OfS chief executive Nicola Dandridge said that the statement outlines the practical steps that the OfS expects universities and colleges to take in tackling harassment and sexual misconduct.

She said: “The statement provides a clear and consistent set of standards for colleges and universities to help them to develop and implement effective systems, policies and processes to prevent and respond to incidents of harassment and sexual misconduct. The statement covers sexual misconduct as well as harassment connected to a range of protected characteristics – including race, religion, disability and sexual orientation. Our expectations extend beyond the campus to social media and the internet, where harassment is increasingly prevalent.

“These expectations provide a standard. It is now for all universities and colleges registered with the OfS to put these principles into practice.”

As for processes, she said that students should feel confident reporting and disclosing incidents, knowing that they will be listened to and their reports will be dealt with appropriately. Staff need the right training to enable them to respond effectively and sensitively to disclosures and reports from students. And universities and colleges need to communicate to students, staff and visitors what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

Background

In November, the group Universities UK (UUK) published a set of recommendations designed to tackle racial harassment, the product of an advisory group convened by UUK in October 2019, after the Equality and Human Rights Commission reported widespread evidence of racial harassment on university campuses.

Protection in the physical and welfare well-being sense is covered by the UK higher education accreditation scheme ProtectED. A webinar last July was about the fair handling of sexual misconduct complaints.

The National Union of Students (NUS) recently complained of ‘structural oppression inherent in our education sector’ and said that all forms of discrimination on campus must be called out.


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