Research perspectives

Higher Education in England must do much more to counter hate crime and sexual violence on campus, report argues

A report by Advance HE evaluating more than 100 pilot schemes designed to tackle hate-crime incidents and sexual violence and harassment at universities and colleges has concluded that higher education needs to do much more in terms of staffing, leadership and resources to safeguard students.

The report calls on higher education institutions (HEIs) in England to be more active in helping students feel safe on campus. Many universities and colleges do little to collect or analyse reports of incidents outside the pilot schemes, while black and minority ethnic students were less confident than white students about using complaints procedures.

The report urges institutions to encourage greater levels of reporting of such incidents, to hold sessions on consent for undergraduates and postgraduates, and to provide “bystander training” for students and staff to encourage prevention.

HEIs should also hire specialist staff to investigate hate crimes and sexual harassment against their students. Many have no dedicated staff to investigate hate crimes or sexual misconduct, despite recent evidence that a substantial proportion of students experience attacks or harassment.

The report also calls for a cultural change in the approach to investigations, away from “criminal justice levels of evidence” (beyond reasonable doubt) and towards findings “on the balance of probabilities” similar to that used in civil courts.

The report concludes by recommending that governing bodies should hold vice-chancellors and senior staff to account on the prevalence of incidents, and calls on the national body representing university chairs to adopt a framework for tackling hate crimes as well as sexual misconduct.

The Office for Students which commissioned the research added that practices to tackle and prevent hate crime, sexual harassment and online harassment “need to be fully embedded into the day-to-day running of England’s colleges and universities”.