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Universities: Sexual Harassment

Question for Department for Education

UIN 134441, tabled on 8 January 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to improve the external oversight of universities in the handling of cases of sexual misconduct.

Answered on

21 January 2021

Departmental officials are working closely with departments across government to tackle sexual misconduct in universities. The government continues to work closely with Universities UK (UUK) on implementing its Changing the Culture framework.

Underreporting of sexual harassment and sexual violence is common within society and it is important that providers break down barriers to reporting and that students feel safe and able to report incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence. The most recent UUK progress report, published in October 2019, showed that progress is being made, with 72% of responding institutions having developed or improved the recording of data on harassment and discrimination incidents with a more centralised approach.

The government expects providers to take their responsibilities to students seriously and to have in place appropriate policies and procedures to tackle sexual misconduct, report incidents and make complaints. The government also expects the provider to support the student in making a decision about the way forward, including whether to make a report to the police. Any student who feels that their complaint has not been dealt with appropriately or satisfactorily can escalate their complaint to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA).

The Office of Students (OfS) has an extremely important role to play in ensuring there are appropriate mechanisms in place to safeguard students and it is clearly important that the OfS has the appropriate powers to address these issues effectively. The OfS has provided £4.7 million for safeguarding schemes.

The OfS has committed to going further to tackle harassment and sexual misconduct, announcing consultation proposals setting out expectations for all HE providers to prevent and address hate crime, harassment and sexual misconduct. The consultation is currently on hold due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The OfS are still accepting online submissions in relation to the consultation and are responding to queries. Further details are available on their webpage:

The government will continue to urge university leaders to prioritise a zero-tolerance culture to all harassment and sexual misconduct and improve the systems for reporting incidents.