The report, Changing the Culture, by the higher education representative body Universities UK (UUK) has put staff-student sexual harassment on the agenda in response to growing calls for the sector to tackle the problem.
The report was prompted by a growing number of reports published by The Guardian which exposed the scale of sexual harassment and violence carried out by university staff on students and junior colleagues.
Last week The Mancunion reported that sexual abuse scandals at universities were akin to ‘the Savile scandals’. The Guardian reportedly received approximately 200 statements, the majority from women. The statements included incidents of sexual harassment, assault and rape, all carried out by university staff with a large majority of cases including postgraduate and PhD students from a plethora of UK universities, including many from the Russell Group.
The government had asked UUK last year to lead a task force on violence against women, harassment, and hate crime in universities. The 1752 Group, an organisation working to combat staff-student sexual harassment in UK universities made a plea to the task force urging it to address staff-student harassment.
The report itself does not make recommendations to universities on staff-student sexual harassment but recognises that it is an area that requires further work. Dr Anna Bull, spokesperson for The 1752 Group said: “In this report, Universities UK indicates that staff-student sexual harassment is a significant issue which must be addressed by the sector. We formed The 1752 Group because of the lack of robust research and policy guidance around staff-student sexual harassment.”
The Group welcomed the report’s recommendations including leadership from senior management, training for university staff, partnership working, and more robust centralised reporting procedures.
The report comes as universities in Australia and the US are coming under pressure to address the same issue. A recent Freedom of Information request across Australia’s universities found that the vast majority of reported rape and harassment cases appear to have gone completely unpunished. It also found that as many as one in five cases may involve staff members committing sexual offences against students.
A large-scale study conducted in the US from 2015 revealed that one in six female graduate students have experienced sexual harassment from a teacher or advisor. Comparable data for the UK does not exist, which many argue highlights the urgent need for research in this area.
A University of Manchester spokesperson has said: “The University has a zero tolerance policy towards any form of harassment and bullying. Through the We Get It campaign, in partnership with the Students’ Union, which enables anyone to anonymously report any incidents, thousands of staff and students have signed a pledge to report any incidents they see and have accessed training and information.
“We have also recruited 12 more harassment advisors to provide a confidential information service to staff and students on issues relating to harassment, discrimination and bullying. Confidential advice is available to support anyone who wishes to make a complaint and the Students’ Union is also available to support students.”