Employment news

Universities told to be more open about complaints

Data protection concerns should not stop UK universities from being more open about how they deal with harassment complaints from staff and students, according to guidelines now available from Universities UK (UUK).

The guidelines respond to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) 2019 report that many universities felt that data protection concerns limited their ability to share information relating to outcomes and sanctions in complaints.

UUK guidance now calls for a change in the way such complaints are handled. This comes amid concerns that a lack of transparency will put people off reporting harassment and weaken confidence in complaints processes when nothing is communicated about outcomes.

The guidelines urge universities to move away from blanket policies that prevent the sharing of complaint outcomes. Instead, universities are encouraged to approach each case separately, with the confidence to share information “as long as it is reasonable and legally appropriate.”

The strategic and practical guidelines “Strategic Changing the culture: sharing personal data in harassment cases” were produced with Coventry University and in consultation with the EHRC, the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) and Data Protection Officers (DPOs) as well as practitioners.

Professor David Richardson, Vice-Chancellor, University of East Anglia, who chaired the wider stakeholder group that supported the development of the guidelines, said: “We hope this guidance will empower universities to make informed, considered, and appropriate decisions to share personal data while complying with data protection legislation. This is critical if we are to encourage more victim-survivors to speak out.”