Colleges face having to tie together a variety of different sets of guidance, policies and expectations over addressing and preventing sexual harassment and misconduct, the Association of Colleges has said.
The organisation made its comments as the Office for Students published a "statement of expectations" for higher education providers.
The OfS said this outlined the practical steps that universities and colleges should be taking to tackle harassment and sexual misconduct – including harassment based on age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
It added that it provided "a clear and consistent set of standards" that all universities and colleges can follow to implement effective systems and policies, in order to both prevent and respond to incidents.
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OfS chief executive Nicola Dandridge said: “Despite some improvements, progress has been uneven. We still see a lack of consistent and effective systems, policies and procedures across the sector. As a result, students continue to report worrying cases that have not been properly addressed by their university or college. These expectations provide a standard. It is now for all universities and colleges registered with the OfS to put these principles into practice."
'Lack of consistency' in tackling sexual harassment
Earlier this month, a review by Ofsted into college safeguarding policies was announced.
Julian Gravatt, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said colleges would take the request from the Office for Students seriously. "The statement of expectations on sexual misconduct and harassment policies is a clear benchmark for institutions. The review being carried out by Ofsted also covers colleges and AoC is pleased to be on the reference group because confusion may arise between the two sets of recommendations and regulation – we will be seeking clarification on how this will work for colleges in practice."
He added: "The OfS regulates higher education courses, whereas DfE’s Keeping Safe in Education policy covers under-19-year-olds and vulnerable adults. Colleges join things up but it isn’t always obvious which rules apply.“
About 10 days ago, following allegations of abuse being made on the Everyone's Invited website, it was announced that the government had asked Ofsted to undertake a review of safeguarding policies in schools and colleges in relation to sexual abuse.
The announcement, which was welcomed by the AoC, said Ofsted would visit a sample of colleges where cases have been highlighted to look at how well safeguarding is working and to discuss the wider issues raised by the evidence. The inspectorate would also review a sample of the recently reported evidence of sexual violence and abuse involving learners, said the government.