Universities UK (UUK) has released a report examining violence against women, harassment and hate crime on university campuses in the UK.
The study, published on Friday 21 October, highlights the scale of sexual violence, harassment and discrimination in British universities, identifying areas where universities could improve their responses to such crimes.
The UUK Taskforce, formed in 2015, reviewed a wide range of evidence, including recent surveys and polls conducted by the National Union of Students (NUS) and other leading organisations. They found high levels of sexual harassment on university campuses.
According to the report, female students are at an increased risk of being a victim of a sexual offence compared to their male peers.
The study also highlighted that 54 per cent of female students and 15 per cent of male students have experienced sexual harassment on a night out, according to a DrinkAware survey conducted in September 2016.
The Taskforce also focused on bullying and victimisation on campus, finding that members of the LGBT+ community on campus experience particularly high levels of harassment.
One in five LGBT+ students experience at least one form of bullying, while for trans students this can be as high as one in three.
Additionally, in 2011, 25 per cent of Jewish students who responded to an Equality Challenge Unit survey felt they had been discriminated against, along with 14 per cent of Muslim students.
The Taskforce acknowledged the increased risk to students who belong to targeted groups. According to the NUS Black Students’ Campaign, 73 per cent of female Muslims have experienced verbal abuse and threatening behaviour while at university.
In response to these problems, the UUK Taskforce put forward a number of recommendations to improve the response of universities to these incidents.
The Taskforce emphasised the importance of including students and student unions in the development process, as well as regularly assessing the effectiveness of such strategies.
A visible commitment from senior leadership to tackling problem areas was also suggested. In particular, it was recommended that university management make it clear that incidents will be taken seriously.
Additionally, the report recommended that the creation of a clear and accessible centralised mechanism for reporting incidents should be prioritised, as should staff training.
According to the Taskforce, it is essential that multi-tiered training strategies for staff be implemented, particularly in relation to handling sexual offences.
Building and maintaining partnerships with external organisations, such as local police and the NHS, was also considered to be essential in responding effectively to violence and harassment on campuses.
The report also examined ways in which incidents could be prevented and recommended that institutions be more proactive.
For example, it was suggested that universities should make clear the standard of behaviour expected from students and take steps towards creating a zero-tolerance community.
Hareem Ghani, NUS Women’s Officer, told The Student: “We know sexual harassment and violence is prevalent on our campuses […] In our post-Brexit society, we have become only too aware of the steep rise in hate crime. No student should have to face this on their campus and we welcome the opportunity this guidance presents in offering clear recommendations to the leadership in education.”
However, the report has not been without criticism.
While Sarah Green, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAWC), praised the UUK for taking a strong first step, she stated on the organisation’s website: “While these intentions are good, UUK do not propose any mechanism for enforcement, monitoring is left to individual institutions and there are no recommendations to Government for a change in the law should universities not comply with the recommendations.”
While the extent to which universities will implement the UUK’s recommendations is yet to be seen, Universities Minister Jo Johnson made a commitment to improve standards.
In a response to the report on his website he said: “I have asked UUK to survey progress in six months and make sure that universities are doing all that they can to protect the safety and security of their students.”