Universities should hire specialist staff to investigate hate crimes and sexual harassment against their students, according to a report commissioned by the higher education regulator for England.
The institutions were also urged to encourage greater levels of reporting of such incidents, and hold sessions on consent for undergraduates and postgraduates, along with “bystander training” for students and staff to encourage prevention.
The report by Advance HE evaluated more than 100 pilot schemes funded by the Office for Students (OfS) and designed to tackle hate-crime incidents and sexual violence and harassment at 84 universities and colleges, which concluded universities needed to do much more in terms of staffing, leadership and resources to safeguard students.
Alison Johns, Advance HE’s chief executive, said: “There is a clear need for continued senior leadership and governance to protect students and tackle this unacceptable antisocial behaviour both within higher education institutions and the sector as a whole.”
The evaluation called on institutions to be more active in helping students feel safe on campus. Many universities and colleges do little to collect or analyse reports of incidents outside the pilot schemes, while black and minority ethnic students were less confident than white students in using complaints procedures.
In response, the OfS said “practices to tackle and prevent hate crime, sexual harassment and online harassment need to be fully embedded into the day-to-day running” of England’s colleges and universities.
The report concluded governing bodies needed to hold vice-chancellors and senior executives to account over the prevalence of incidents, and called on the national body representing university chairs and chancellors to adopt a framework for tackling hate crimes as well as sexual misconduct.
In several examples, the report found students’ willingness to disclose sexual misconduct – ranging from rape and sexual assault to cyberstalking – increased as a result of awareness campaigns on campus as well as the provision of support.
“It is especially important for higher education providers to plan for the rise in reporting levels to ensure that support and investigations may be put in place,” the report concluded, adding that one full-time staff member for every 10,000 students was a “basic requirement”.
Many universities in England have no dedicated staff to investigate hate crimes or sexual misconduct, despite recent evidence that a substantial proportion of students experience attacks or harassment.
Yvonne Hawkins, the director of student experience at the OfS, said: “Students should be able to concentrate on their studies and enjoy their higher education experience free from the fear of harassment or assault.
“Shocking statistics show that, while many students have a positive experience of higher education, others are experiencing incidents of harassment or assault. This is simply unacceptable.”
The report also called for a cultural change in universities’ approach to investigations, away from “criminal justice levels of evidence” that require charges to be proved beyond reasonable doubt, and towards a “balance of probabilities” similar to that used in civil courts.
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