Universities may face losing their positions, including public funding if they fail to improve their handling of harassment and sexual misconduct under the Higher Education Watchdog’s proposals for England. The new restrictions being introduced by the office for students will require the regulator to explicitly address harassment and sexual misconduct to a university as a condition of its registration.
Any university in violation of that condition would face being deregistered, meaning that they would lose state funding, are prohibited from recruiting international students, and could not possibly award degrees. In contrast, their students could not apply for a loan.
The approval is one of a series of new enforcement powers that could bring NOS against universities if they fail to make enough progress by 2022. These measures are set out in a new consultation, which aims to encourage universities to protect better and support students experiencing racial, homophobic, transphobic, religious, and competent harassment and sexual misconduct.
Universities will have until this summer to demonstrate OfS that they have adequate and effective policies and procedures in place, including clear procedures to report incidents, fair, independent and impartial investigations, and appropriate support for victims.
Any university that fails to meet regulatory expectations may face sanctions. The regulator will evaluate the universities’ progress for the next two years and then assess whether its current powers are sufficient to drive reform.
Universities propose to introduce new restrictions if they handle complaints about this period. Other regulations proposed include the duty of universities to formulate adequate and effective policies on harassment and sexual misconduct.
OFS Chief Executive Nicola Dandridge said: “We continue to listen to the accounts of students facing harassment, sexual harassment, and other forms of sexual misconduct. Often students say they support them if they suffer this unacceptable behavior.” The need is not being met, and that reporting systems are not clear or compelling.
“Many institutions are taking concrete steps to address this issue. But we need to do more for students who are still being let down by ineffective processes and insufficient support. Where we see evidence of serious failures, We have regulatory powers to intervene.
But these proposals were criticized by the University of Exeter senior law lecturer Rachel Fenton, who said there was already enough evidence that universities had failed to address harassment and sexual misconduct.
He said: “This consultation is mild and wishful-washy. We know that universities have progressed in pieces. The expectations of OFS are nothing new and are very quickly met.
Fenton said that nearly half of responsible university employees for dealing with harassment and sexual misconduct, in a survey published last month by the University of Exeter, indicated that their universities have only begun to address these issues.
Fenton called on the government to impose mandatory legal fees on universities to prevent sexual misconduct and harassment and to respond effectively. He added: “Universities need to be directly accountable to the government and not to the OFS, which seems reluctant to exercise its enforcement powers.
NUS Women’s Officer Rachel Waters said: “Students expect their universities to support them if they experience sexual violence and harassment until universities can become safe environments to study in further action.
Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said: “I am urging all university leaders to improve the systems for supporting students and reporting incidents to create a culture of zero tolerance for all harassment and sexual harassment. Give priority.
A spokeswoman for Universities UK, which represents 138 higher education institutions, said: “Universities are committed to ensuring students and staff have a safe university experience [and] opportunities to demonstrate the progress they are making Welcome to this critical issue.
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