Employment news

Office for Students launches further consultation on staff-student relationships in HE

The Office for Students (OfS) has launched a consultation on regulating harassment and sexual misconduct in English higher education. It signals a need for greater support for victims, and mandatory training for students and staff. One of the proposals being trailed is for universities and colleges to maintain a register of personal relationships between staff and students.

The register would apply to personal relationships where a staff member has responsibilities towards a student, for example assessing a student’s work. The consultation proposes that any academic not disclosing such a personal relationship should be liable for dismissal. The register is one option, but views are also being canvassed on an outright ban of such personal relationships.

The consultation could also result in each institution having to publish a single document setting out how it will make a significant and credible difference in tackling harassment and sexual misconduct. It could also see the introduction of mandatory training for students and staff (e.g., ‘bystander training’ for potential witnesses) and a ban on non-disclosure agreements in cases of harassment and sexual misconduct.

The consultation runs to 4th May 2023 and will include online events for students and universities and colleges. Launching the consultation, Susan Lapworth, chief executive of the OfS, said: ‘We are particularly interested in views about relationships between staff and students. The majority of those working in higher education behave appropriately towards their students. But we recognise that there can be a power imbalance in personal relationships that could be exploited by unscrupulous staff to subject students to harassment or sexual misconduct.”