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Universities are Changing the Culture in tackling harassment and hate crime, but there are still areas for improvement

Today, Wednesday 9 October, Universities UK published their ‘Changing the Culture’ report on harassment, hate crime and sexual violence. 

The report looks at progress made by the university sector two years on from the publication of its initial report ‘Changing the Culture’ in 2016. It presents findings from a survey of 95 higher education providers and makes a number of recommendations for the sector.

In 2015, DfE asked Universities UK to establish a specific taskforce to tackle sexual violence and harassment and have tasked the Office for Students (OfS) to work with the sector, including to progress the taskforce’s recommendations.

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said:

“Any form of harassment, violence or hate crime is abhorrent and unacceptable anywhere in society, and this includes our world-leading universities, which should be safe and inclusive environments.

“The impact of these offences can be devastating on victims, and while this report shows the progress which has been made, it also highlights the sad truth that there is much further to go to combat the culture of harassment, support those affected and take serious action where needed.

“I am struck by the report’s finding that not all senior leaders are taking strong ownership of the issue, which is simply not good enough. I am urging all leaders to prioritise a zero tolerance culture to all harassment and hate crime and do all they can to follow these recommendations.”

Almost 100 universities have been surveyed by Universities UK as a follow-up to its harassment and hate crime taskforce (Changing the Culture), exploring how institutions are addressing some of the challenges raised and acting on its recommendations.

Encouraging progress has been made at individual institutions – particularly in tackling gender-based-violence – with common activities including increased training for staff, preventative campaigns and development of partnerships with third sector and specialist organisations. Responses to the survey show:

  • 81% have updated their discipline procedures, with 53% introducing or making additions to the student code of conduct
  • 81% improved support for reporting students and 67% improved support for responding students
  • 78% provided students clear information on how to report an incident
  • 72% developed or improved recording of data on incidents with a more centralised approach
  • 65% have rolled out consent training to their students
  • Over a third reported recruiting new staff to respond to the recommendations in Changing the Culture

Despite this progress, the research also shows more still to do to drive positive change across higher education. A particular theme which emerged from the research is that, while there has been good progress in responding to sexual harassment and gender-based violence, less priority has been afforded to tackling other forms of harassment including racial harassment and other forms of hate crime.

Professor Julia Buckingham CBE, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, said:

“The higher education sector recognises its shared responsibility to eliminating hate crime, which is unacceptable in our society, and in our universities. We are committed to ensuring we create welcoming and inclusive environments for students of all genders, backgrounds and ethnicities to flourish and this research shows significant progress towards that.

“We particularly welcome actions taken by universities in addressing some of the issues and steps highlighted in our Changing the Culture report. However, it is clear that there is a long way to go in ending harassment and hate crime for good in higher education.

“While it is understandable that there has been a particular focus on addressing gender-based violence, it is time for us to step-up and make sure the same priority status and resourcing is given to addressing all forms of harassment and hate.”

In response to the findings, UUK has set out six recommendations for universities to consider, to make further progress:

  1. Ensure accountability for tackling harassment and hate crime sits at senior management/executive level – just under half of responding institutions indicated this was currently the case.
  2. Involve responding students and reporting students and bystanders to develop and improve response strategies. Only 32% currently involve them in developing an institutional strategic response, although almost all work with students’ unions on this.
  3. Setting all students, including pre-arrival, with clear behavioural expectations, linked to potential sanctions if these are breached.
  4. Make resource allocation for this part of the strategic planning process – 45% identified a lack of resources as a key barrier to enhancing progress.
  5. Ensure regular reporting and reviewing to governing bodies or committees. 
  6. Ensure that the principles and priority status afforded to handling sexual misconduct are also given to other forms of harassment and hate crime.

Addressing concerns that wider forms of harassment – and particularly racial harassment – have been under-supported, UUK will be developing practical guidance on preventing and responding specifically to racial harassment.

Today it is announcing an advisory group which will bring together senior leaders, student representatives and policy experts from across the sector to lead on this work. It will be chaired by Professor David Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia. The guidance will include addressing all forms of racial harassment experienced by students and staff. It also builds on the outcomes and recommendations from the soon-to-report EHRC inquiry, to support improvements in policy and practice, and identify ‘what works’ to ensure all university interventions deliver maximum positive benefit.

UUK took a leadership role in 2016, establishing a harassment taskforce and producing a report, Changing the Culture, with a series of recommendations to drive change. Report findings one year on showed that progress was being made but more must be done. This latest survey was conducted two years on.

92 of Universities UK’s 136 members replied.

Universities UK will be running a workshop for members on how the sector should respond to the EHRC recommendations, on 30th October 2019.

Membership of UUK’s advisory group to tackle racial harassment in higher education:

Professor David


University of East Anglia

Vice Chancellor

Dr Stevie-Jade


University of Leicester

Associate Professor at the Centre for Hate Studies



SOAS (and Freelance Trainer)

Freelance trainer on unconscious bias training in HE and, Equality and Diversity Advisor (SOAS)


McDuff OBE

Solent University

Pro-Vice Chancellor, Students and Teaching 



AMOSSHE (London South Bank University)

Director of Student Support and Employability (representing AMOSSHE)

Dr Jason


Durham University  

Assistant Professor in sociology




Secretary and Registrar of LSHTM (representing AHUA)




Black Students’ Officer



ARC (Cardiff Met University)

Director of Registry services of Cardiff Met University (representing ARC)




Head of race equality charter

Prof Nishan


University of Leicester

Vice Chancellor

Prof Frances

Corner OBE

Goldsmiths University

Vice Chancellor

Prof Wendy

Thomson CBE

University of London

Vice Chancellor

Prof Lynn


London Met University

Vice Chancellor

Prof Nick


Bucks New University

Vice Chancellor



University of Exeter

Chief College Operations Officer



University of Edinburgh

Deputy Secretary of Student Experience




Deputy Chief Executive



University of the Arts, London

Director of HR & UHR M25 Chair


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