Universities in the UK have made progress in dealing with sexual harassment on campus, with nearly two-thirds introducing consent training for students, according to a survey of almost 100 institutions.
The research found that universities including Edinburgh, Kent, Durham, Oxford and Soas, University of London were conducting classes to train students in how to seek and recognise sexual consent. At some universities, the courses were mandatory in freshers’ week.
However, while many universities have increased training for staff and introduced preventative campaigns to address sexual harassment and gender-based violence, the report found far less had been done to deal with racial harassment.
The universities minister, Chris Skidmore, expressed concern that too few senior leaders in universities were taking a prominent role in trying to combat harassment, violence and hate crime, instead leaving this to more junior colleagues.
Skidmore said: “I am struck by the report’s finding that not all senior leaders are taking strong ownership of the issue, which is simply not good enough. The impact of these offences can be devastating on victims and, while this report shows the progress which has been made, it also highlights the sad truth that there is much further to go to combat the culture of harassment, support those affected and take serious action where needed.”
Universities UK (UUK), the umbrella group representing 136 institutions that conducted the survey, welcomed progress made by its members on tackling sexual harassment, but acknowledged “less priority” had been afforded to tackling racial harassment and other forms of hate crime.
“Most institutional practice continues to be focused on tackling student-to-student sexual harassment and misconduct, and gender-based violence,” the report states.
“Evidence that other forms of harassment (including hate incidents) are being addressed is emerging, although this remains relatively underdeveloped.
“Addressing hate crime is likely to require further support, time and resources to achieve the same level of prominence as has been achieved with sexual misconduct.”
The UUK survey found 81% of institutions had updated their discipline procedures to address harassment and 53% had introduced or made additions to their student codes of conduct.
Just over 80% said they had improved support for students who reported harassment and 78% said they had provided clear information on how to report an incident. More than a third have recruited staff to address harassment and hate crime.
Julia Buckingham, the UUK president and vice-chancellor of Brunel University London, said the sector was committed to ensuring inclusive environments for students of all genders, backgrounds and ethnicities.
She said: “While it is understandable that there has been a particular focus on addressing gender-based violence, it is time for us to step up and make sure the same priority status and resourcing is given to addressing all forms of harassment and hate.”
The survey was conducted to review progress two years after UUK launched its Changing the Culture report, which set out a new framework to support the sector to deliver improvements in tackling all forms of harassment, with a specific focus on sexual misconduct.
The latest survey acknowledges there are problems with resourcing and funding for improvements in universities, with 45% of institutions saying this is a barrier to progress.
It also calls for greater accountability for tackling harassment and hate crime at senior management and executive level. Less than half of universities said their senior leaders were involved.
Dr Tiffany Page, a co-founder of the 1752 Group, which campaigns to end sexual misconduct in higher education, said: “While the survey suggests university progress in the last two years, the real test is the experience of students accessing the reporting and disciplinary procedures, and support mechanisms, and how universities respond to complaints.
She said: “Data is still missing on the treatment of reporting students by universities and whether their reports of discrimination and violence are taken seriously and acted on effectively. Based on our research and others in the sector, this is still not happening.”
Prof Kalwant Bhopal, the deputy director of the centre for research in race and education at Birmingham University, said: “This report shows positive progress in tackling harassment and hate crime in universities. However, it’s very disappointing to learn that progress on tackling racial discrimination has been much slower.
“I’m not surprised by this, given this reflects other areas of higher education – particularly inclusive policy making where race is not considered a priority compared to gender. If universities are serious about issues of social justice, they must consider the impact racism has on both students and staff – and how this must be addressed.”
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