Westminster Higher Education Forum

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Next steps for addressing sexual misconduct in Higher Education - duty of care, collaborative approaches, effective complaints procedures, and workforce priorities

May 2021

Price: £95 PLUS VAT

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***
This conference is examining the next steps for tackling sexual misconduct in HE settings, and improving the sector’s approach to sexual harassment.

The conference is taking place with the expected publication of the updated statement of expectations by the OfS this spring. It also follows the tragic events in March that have brought the issues of sexual harassment and violence against women and girls to the fore of national discussion, with calls for the Government to do more in tackling and preventing it.

We are pleased to be able to include keynote contributions from Amy Norton, Head of Equality and Diversity, Office for Students; Dr Anna Bull, Director, Research, 1752 Group; Poppy Gerrard-Abbott, Researcher, The Emily Test; and Tracey Allen, Adjudication Manager, Adjudication Team, Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education.

The discussion at a glance:

  • HEI responsibilities and examples of best practice - in the context of proposals in the OfS Consultation on harassment and sexual misconduct in higher education on processes, policies and systems that institutions are expected to have in place - with discussion on:
    • communication - best practice in maximising its effectiveness in universities across the whole organisation
    • action - implementing systems and approaches to improve the prevention of cases of harassment and the way instances are dealt with, and fostering a climate that encourages reporting
    • support - making sure appropriate structures are in place for students and staff engaged in the process, and looking at the effectiveness of current support for universities themselves
    • training - for staff and others involved in safeguarding and complaint handling, as well as the way forward for improving university performance in this area
    • implementation - key issues for providers in putting in place the measures, best practice, and institutional and cultural changes needed to prevent harassment and misconduct
  • campus culture and protecting individual student and staff groups - raising awareness, prevention, and priorities for staff training
  • putting in place effective complaints procedures - investigation and decision-making procedures, trauma-informed responses, and data recording
  • developing a collaborative approach to tackling sexual misconduct - multi-agency coordination, aligning policy across the sector, and the use of self-assessment frameworks

The conference will be an opportunity for stakeholders to consider the issues alongside key policy officials who are due to attend from the DfE and the Joint BioSecurity Centre.

The agenda:

  • Outcomes of consultation on harassment and sexual misconduct in higher education and policy priorities going forward
  • An overview of gender-based violence on campuses and developing the Gender-Based Violence Charter
  • Campus culture and protecting all student and staff groups - raising awareness, prevention, and priorities for staff training
  • Implementing sector guidance to address staff sexual misconduct in UK higher education
  • Best practice in handling student complaints
  • Developing effective complaints procedures - investigation and decision-making procedures, trauma informed responses, and data recording
  • Developing a collaborative approach to tackling sexual misconduct
    • Joint working on education, prevention and promoting bystander intervention
    • Developing multi-agency coordination, aligning policy across the sector, and the use of self-assessment frameworks

The discussion in detail:

Improving prevention:

  • best practice - how it can be built upon and further rolled out, looking at:
    • the OFS Annual Review - reporting that sexual misconduct remained a persistent problem
    • review of sexual misconduct polices - the recent OfS call for providers to review their policies, along with a newly published statement of expectations on provider response and policy
    • Clearer expectations on harassment for universities - from the OfS, including:
      • a commitment to engage with stakeholders in an effort to understand the impact of the pandemic in relation to harassment and abuse
      • plans to fast-track the publication of a statement of expectations on providers’ systems, policies and responses to sexual misconduct
    • Changing the culture - the Universities UK update to their report finding progress at many universities, including in tackling gender-based violence, following recommendations including:
      • increased training for staff
      • introduction of campaigns to raise awareness and improve the culture around campuses
      • development of partnerships with the third sector and others
  • tailoring support - focusing on specific groups within universities, including effective bystander training for groups such as early career academics to challenge poor behaviour
  • messaging:
    • strategies for reinforcing awareness of the boundaries of acceptable behaviour
    • with the University of Oxford reportedly considering a formal ban on relationships between staff and students
  • online harassment - how it can be addressed, especially in the context of COVID-19 with courses and interaction increasingly taking place remotely, looking at:
    • Tackling online harassment and promoting online welfare - implementation of UUK recommendations such as clearly setting out expectations for conduct, including in chat groups
    • reporting and redress - online harassment in disciplinary policies and procedures

Complaints procedures - assessing reporting processes, ensuring fair dealing with complaints and allegations, and creating an environment that supports harassment victims in coming forward:

  • access and support - designing processes that encourage students to come forward:
    • particularly at a time when usual support groups are not available
    • with concerns that assaults are not being reported due to fear of lockdown fines and punishment
    • with over 80 UK universities being added to the Everyone’s Invited website that allows victims to publish testimonies anonymously  
  • fairness and transparency - discussing effective approaches to ensuring a means of evaluating cases and enabling universities to increase the speed in dealing with incidents
  • assessing varying approaches - with some institutions establishing separate disciplinary procedures for sexual misconduct, whilst others place incidents within their general complaints framework
  • effective responses - looking at reporting, disciplinary hearing processes, record and data management, and legal recourse
  • evaluating advice on addressing staff sexual misconduct in UK universities:
    • such as the Sector Guidance recommendations from the 1752 group and McAllister Olivarius on fairness to complainants and giving equal rights to complainants and respondents
  • the legal context - how institutional frameworks align with the Equality Act 2010 and the common law duty of care that HEIs are required to consider under the Public Sector Equality Duty, including:
    • eliminating discrimination and harassment of women
    • fostering good relations between different groups

Collaboration - priorities for creating a joined-up approach toward tackling sexual violence and harassment:

  • coordination - how police, universities, specialist organisations, third sector groups, and other stakeholders can develop partnerships and ensure investigations are carried out collaboratively, and to successful end results
  • university security - how trusted organisations, such as the police, can best promote university security and work with local authorities in ensuring safe transport to and from campuses
  • working with clinics and the NHS - developing close relationships between universities, Sexual Assault Referral Clinics and the NHS to enable quick action when incidents occur

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by officials from the Department for Education and the Joint BioSecurity Centre.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording and transcript to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Shortly after every Westminster Higher Education Forum seminar, a briefing document is produced. This is distributed to all delegates on the day as well as to our policymaker contacts in government, and to stakeholders more widely.

A seminar publication provides a timely record of proceedings, and acts as a guide to the latest thinking on current policy issues for those unable to be at the event.

This publication includes


Contributions from keynotes and panellists, including accompanying slides*
*Subject to approval

Delegate Pack

Information from the day, including delegate list, biographies and agenda


Transcript of questions and comments posed to speakers from attending delegates


Supplementary articles from speakers
and delegates