More action needed by universities to tackle harassment – report

Universities still need to do more to tackle harassment and hate crime on campus, a report has found.

Institutions have given priority to dealing with sexual misconduct and gender-based violence, with less given to other forms, such as those that are race-related, according to a report by Universities UK.

In response to the report, Universities Minister Chris Skidmore warned university chiefs that there must be a “zero-tolerance culture” to all types of harassment.

The study looks at the progress UK universities have made since a taskforce was set up in 2016 to look at the nature and scale of harassment and hate crime across higher education.

It finds that universities are putting in place and improving measures to address issues and prevent incidents occurring.

There has been good progress, it says, in responding to sexual harassment and gender-based violence.

But it adds: “Less priority has been afforded to tackling other forms of harassment, particularly hate incidents/crimes.”

The report defines a hate incident as a broader term that doesn’t necessarily involve a crime, adding hate incidents can also be described as “everyday harassment” or “micro-aggressions” based on a student’s disability, gender identity, race, ethnicity or nationality, religion, faith or belief, or sexual orientation.

A “micro-aggression” is “a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalised group such as  a racial or ethnic minority”, the report says.

To help prevent all incidents and crimes, 81% of universities surveyed for the report said they have updated their student discipline procedures, while 53% have made major revisions to their student codes of conduct.

Examples of initiatives introduced by universities to raise awareness of expected behaviour from students include developing pre-arrival online consent courses, and making these a condition of registration; putting behavioural expectations in students’ accommodation; broadening “consent quizzes” to include an “inclusivity quiz” as part of registration; setting out potential sanctions; conducting “preventative campaigns” with sports teams and rolling out “anti-hazing training” for new sports club leaders.

The report also notes that there is variation in whether or not students can report incidents anonymously.

Half of the institutions surveyed said this option is provided – with either the reporting student remaining anonymous and providing details of the other party or both the reporting student and the other party remaining anonymous.

Some 45% said they did not currently offer an anonymity option.

The report does warn that while there is widespread commitment from the higher education sector, there is no “single solution or ‘quick fix’ to tackle the pernicious problem of harassment and hate crime in universities or in wider society”.

Professor Julia Buckingham, UUK president and vice-chancellor of Brunel University London, said: “The higher education sector recognises its shared responsibility to eliminating hate crime, which is unacceptable in our society, and in our universities.

“We are committed to ensuring we create welcoming and inclusive environments for students of all genders, backgrounds and ethnicities to flourish and this research shows significant progress towards that.

“We particularly welcome actions taken by universities in addressing some of the issues and steps highlighted in our Changing the Culture report. However, it is clear that there is a long way to go in ending harassment and hate crime for good in higher education.

“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.”

Universities minister Chris Skidmore said there must be a
Universities minister Chris Skidmore said there must be a “zero-tolerance” culture in regards to harassment (Joe Giddens/PA)

Mr Skidmore said: “Any form of harassment, violence or hate crime is abhorrent and unacceptable anywhere in society, and this includes our world-leading universities, which should be safe and inclusive environments.

“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.

“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.

“I am urging all leaders to prioritise a zero-tolerance culture to all harassment and hate crime and do all they can to follow these recommendations.”

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