Sexual misconduct guidance issued for colleges

Students need more support from colleges and universities when making reports of harassment, says Office for Students

Kate Parker

How should colleges deal with harassment and sexual misconduct?

The Office for Students has today revealed a proposed set of expectations for how colleges and universities should deal with reports of harassment and all forms of sexual misconduct.

In June last year, the National Union of Students (NUS)  revealed that three-quarters of FE students had suffered from unwanted sexual experiences – with one in three of these happening within the college itself.

Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of OfS, said that too often students warn that they don’t receive the support they need and that the reporting systems are not clear or effective. 

Background: Three in four FE students 'suffer unwanted sexual experiences'

More:  'We need to understand sexual violence in colleges'

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The proposals put forward by OfS are part of a consultation with students, higher education providers and representative bodies to ensure that harassment and sexual misconduct are dealt with effectively by all providers. 

Harassment includes unwanted behaviour or conduct connected to one or more of the following protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation; and sexual misconduct includes all unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, such as sexual harassment, assault, rape or revenge porn.

Tackling harassment and sexual misconduct

The proposals state that providers should have adequate and effective policies and processes in place for all students to report and disclose incidents of harassment and sexual misconduct, including:

  • Provision of easy-to-understand information for students and staff on how they can report, disclose or seek support if they experience or witness any incident of harassment or sexual misconduct. 

  • An investigatory process that is fair, independent and free from any reasonable perception of bias. 

  • In the event of a disclosure, those involved have access to appropriate support prior to, during and following any formal investigation.

The proposals also include recommendations for preventative measures in colleges: 

  • Clearly setting out behavioural expectations for prospective and current students, staff and visitors, and the possible sanctions that can be imposed where these are not followed.

  • Making training available for all staff and students to help prevent incidents and encourage reporting – for example, bystander initiatives and consent workshops.  

  • Ensuring that activities to tackle harassment and sexual misconduct are embedded across the university or college with oversight from senior leadership.

The OfS also confirmed that it would use its powers to intervene if there was evidence that the provider had failed to complete the complaint-handling process. 

Ms Dandridge said: “Many institutions are taking concrete steps to address the issue and we have funded 119 projects across the country to develop initiatives and share them across the sector. But we need to do more for the students who are still being let down by ineffective procedures and inadequate support.

“Dealing with harassment and sexual misconduct will require action and collaboration from a range of parties. We will continue to work with universities, colleges and students to ensure that steps are taken to prevent harassment and sexual misconduct from happening in the first place, but if it does happen students are supported, and reported incidents are dealt with effectively.”

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateeParker

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