In September 2023, the Office for Students (OfS) launched the first large-scale survey on harassment & sexual misconduct in UK higher education providers. It will survey students at thirteen higher education providers to better understand how students’ experiences have affected their studies, and students' experiences of the reporting mechanisms that providers have in place.
The OfS plan to evaluate the pilot survey responses in early 2024 and will consider a sector-wide prevalence survey.
Before this initiative, The 1752 Group, in collaboration with student unions and academic staff, conducted a survey in 2020. Among 1,303 students surveyed, 55 percent experienced offensive remarks or harassment at university, with only 5 percent reporting sexual misconduct. More disturbingly, 30 percent of gender harassment victims faced sexual violence, legally considered rape in the UK. This disproportionately impacted women and non-binary individuals, often by fellow students. The 1752 Group urges data collection, a universal reporting standard and enhanced support.
Universities urged to collaborate and share data for enhanced student safety
At the time, The 1752 Group encouraged institutions to take these statistics, and others like it, seriously. As the researchers wrote in Wonkhe, “This finding creates an important opportunity for the university and the students’ union to intervene in addressing this issue. Since it is students who are targeting other students, then it’s possible for activists, bystanders, and university-led programmes of work to intervene and change attitudes and behaviours.”
The report also had the following six recommendations for universities:
- Publish and regularly review a strategy for tackling gender-based violence and harassment across the university. Including implementing findings from the Domestic Abuse policy guidance for universities
- Include gender-based violence, including a definition of sexual consent, explicitly in the Code of Conduct for students
- Continue with ongoing improvements to complaints handling for gender-based harassment/violence reports
- Make sure all personal tutors are trained to deal with disclosures of sexual violence and all student services, HR, and other staff handling student complaints receive specialist gender-based violence training
- Appoint a specialist sexual violence support officer for the university, to support students through the reporting process and to support prevention programmes and run training
- Invest in prevention programmes including bystander programmes and awareness raising programmes
Recommended action for student case conduct management
Despite a lack of universal standard for reporting these incidents, universities must collaborate and begin to share data to align processes and interventions with the goal of better protecting students.
In addressing these critical challenges, tools such as Symplicity Advocate have emerged to provide accurate reporting and proactive student assistance in creating safer university environments.
With Symplicity Advocate, Student Conduct, Complaints & Appeals teams can rely on accurate reporting, workflows, and proactive solutions to ensure that incidents are properly followed up on. For this reason, accurate reporting is essential to give students the knowledge that their university is ensuring the safety of all students and is accountable. Students need to feel confident that the systems in place are there to support them throughout the process, with streamlined communication and documentation gathering, while also giving confidence to the university that should a crisis occur they are prepared.
With Symplicity Advocate, wellbeing advisors and student services managers can proactively identify and support students who need help. Having all of the information in one place enables universities to help students faster and build a safer community.