On Monday 16 October, a panel of leading thinkers on addressing sexual harassment and sexual violence at universities spoke at LSE at the ‘Report It. Stop It’ event. EDI at LSE spoke with Fiona Waye – an event speaker and Senior Policy Lead in Inclusion, Equality and Diversity at Universities UK – about the ‘Changing the culture‘ report, the effectiveness of university–student union collaboration, and the importance of securing buy-in from senior staff to safeguard students.
EDI: Hi Fiona – a warm welcome to LSE. Thank you so much for your time. In October 2016, the Universities UK (UUK) Taskforce released the ‘Changing the culture‘ report examining violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students. What were the aims and history of the report? And for those who are not familiar with the organisation, what is Universities UK?
Fiona Waye: Thank you – it is good to be here. Firstly, Universities UK is the voice of universities. We aim to maintain the world-leading strength of our UK higher education sector, and to support our members in the delivery of their aims and objectives. Essentially, we help to shape higher education policy, engage directly with policy makers and other stakeholders and maintain strong links with organisations – such as NUS (National Union of Students) and other representative bodies including GuildHE and the Association of Colleges. We have 136 members across the UK and our president is Professor Janet Beer, who is vice chancellor of the University of Liverpool.
We got involved because students are entitled to a safe and positive environment, and universities have a duty to deliver on that outcome. We were very much aware that the NUS had published evidence which showed that there were occasions where students weren’t always necessarily getting the most effective response that they could have had from their institution. Back in September 2015, we took a paper to the UUK board – the decision-making body for UUK – proposing that we develop a project which built on the range of work already going on and explored how we could support our members to do more.
A month later, we had a letter from the minister, inviting us to set up a taskforce to support the sector in responding to gender-based violence. Having already agreed to undertake a programme of work in this area, we agreed that addressing gender-based violence would feature as a prominent stream of work within this broader programme.
UUK was keen to undertake a holistic approach because although we were well aware that although each form of harassment is separate and requires a different approach, there were commonalities in terms of how an institution might respond to any form of harassment – such as having a transparent process for handling complaints. Furthermore, students have multiple identities and as such can suffer harassment on many accounts.
To form the taskforce, we got students, academic experts and external people around the table and their first job was to look at the evidence that was already available. From the outset, the taskforce was clear that they would focus on developing effective prevention and responsive strategies – as well as practical actions. More specifically, the taskforce wished to look at both behavioural and cultural change, and how to explore how to increase the effectiveness of universities’ policies, practices, procedures, systems and structures.
The taskforce also noted that the law had changed significantly since 1994 when UUK had published the ‘Zellick’ guidelines around dealing with student behaviour that might constitute a criminal offence. Given that these issues are not confined to university campuses, the taskforce also requested that we look at the communities in which students live and draw on their experiences there too. Lastly, we wanted to draw on experience from other sectors.
What have we done so far? We collected evidence, drawing heavily on what the NUS had done. We also did our own desk research and we invited responses from our members. From that, we pulled out the key themes that emerged and drafted recommendations, which we put to the sector to sense check in April 2016 and then on to our board for endorsement.
We ended up with two reports – ‘Changing the culture’ and the report focusing on responding to incidences which may potentially be a criminal offence. ‘Changing the culture’ had a number of recommendations for institutions and for UUK. For institutions, first and foremost it was about getting leadership commitment, adopting an institution-wide approach, having both preventative and effective response measures in place and, lastly, making sure support was in place for both the survivor and the alleged perpetrator. However, UUK was also tasked with a number of actions, such as sharing good practice across the sector as well as taking on new areas. Clearly, with only a year, the taskforce were aware that they couldn’t look at every issue! We are therefore exploring how to support the sector in addressing staff-student sexual misconduct and to combat online harassment and bullying.
Now we are at the stage where we are focusing on implementation. My priority at the beginning of this year was to set up an implementation plan to support the sector in implementing the recommendations, and also to get UUK to go down our list of actions that we were tasked to do. The work and the funding HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) has given out has been fantastic and has really acted as an impetus to encouraging institutions to do things. And I think it’s just today that the second round came out of £1.8 million that HEFCE are putting forward to support institutions. I think that over 40 institutions that have been funded, so including the first round and this round over 100 projects have been funded. All of these projects are about supporting the implementation of the report.
EDI: Thank you – that’s very encouraging. Following the awarding of funding from HEFCE, LSE and the LSESU (Students’ Union), for example, have developed a new initiative to promote student and staff understandings of sexual consent and to increase awareness of support – comprising the ‘Where do you stand?’ video, the ‘Consent Matters: Boundaries, Respect and Positive Intervention’ online course, and the appointment of ‘consent champions‘ at the LSESU.
Are there examples of initiatives at other institutions that strike you as promising means of improving student safety and developing inclusive university environments?
Fiona Waye: Yes – there are many. In July I went out to the sector asking for case studies and we produced a directory. We’ve published over 30 case studies. One is De Montfort University’s Mandala Ambassador Project. This is where they are developing clear referral routes and reporting routes and bystander initiatives. What I particularly liked about this is that not only are they working with their own students but these Mandala ambassadors are also going out to local schools and spreading the messages about what appropriate behaviour is. I like that because it makes sure that what institutions are doing is joined up with what the local schools are doing.
Keele University are looking at how they could provide support for survivors. They have developed a team of specialists called ‘sexual violence liaison officers‘. They developed this role with experts in the sector called LimeCulture, which is a company which UUK worked with when we developed our reports because LimeCulture specialise in responding to gender-based violence. As a result of the work that Keele did, LimeCulture have rolled out the training for sexual violence liaison officers to over 40 institutions and there are a number of institutions that have put bids into HEFCE for the funding to support them to get these posts in place.
There is also the Liverpool Guild. I want to emphasise that it’s not just about what universities are doing; it’s also about student unions. Liverpool Guild campaigns to empower students to report. They’ve got selfies of students supporting the campaign and they prepared a video which includes the vice chancellor, Professor Janet Beer.
Other universities have been getting involved with external partners, which is absolutely critical – such as the police and local domestic violence organisations. For example, Canterbury Christ Church has an ‘expect respect‘ project. They are committed to developing a welcoming and inclusive university where everyone gets involved and they have developed a campaign with Kent police and with the Canterbury City Council.
Derby is another interesting example. They have developed a whole community approach and have set up a number of debates on what student-safeguarding is. They want to increase understanding and influence cultural behaviour, so they have set up a number of debates on specific issues, and then they publish information and initiatives around those specific issues. Derby is an example of a collaboration between the university and the student union, so it’s about working together. It’s important to emphasise that sometimes these initiatives are begun by the student union and then picked up by the institution – or vice versa. But where you see it being most effective is where they’re working together. The evidence that we found when we went out to the sector was that if you can get institutions and the union to work together, the amount that can be done is much greater than when it’s isolated.
EDI: In the wake of the release of the ‘Changing the culture’ report, there is an increasing commitment from universities to develop safer and more supportive environments for students. Looking forward to the future, what do you regard as the key areas of practical focus for universities in this regard?
Fiona Waye: Yes – firstly, our taskforce has identified the need to support the sector to address staff-on-student sexual misconduct. The second area concerns producing guidance on cyber-bullying, and we have started a project with the University of Bedfordshire to produce guidance on this. We are building up a picture of the evidence out there, and what I want to do is a survey of the processes and procedures that institutions have in place. One of the areas that I think needs further work is making sure that these are all joined up.
I think from UUK’s perspective, we have a responsibility to work with our members, and we will be working with Professor Janet Beer to encourage the other vice chancellors to come and back this. The evidence is very clear – you need buy-in from senior people. It’s difficult to get this, because it’s not just about buy-in and ownership; it’s also about budget and securing the commitment of senior comms people too. The need to keep on working on communications is absolutely critical if you want to create a safe and inclusive environment for students. You need to demonstrate what’s acceptable, and to keep saying to students, ‘This is what is happening’, and make sure that you deliver on those policies and practices. Otherwise, you can seriously undermine students’ willingness to come forward.
EDI: Do you think that the call for senior buy-in is generally responded to proactively, or is it perhaps partly motivated by concerns about potential reputational damage?
Fiona Waye: When I’ve spoken to members, they have been quite candid in saying ‘It’s just unacceptable. Even just one case is not acceptable.’ There are a number of vice chancellors – such as at the University of East Anglia, David Richardson, and at York (Koen Lamberts) and Durham (Stuart Corbridge) – who have come out and actively said, ‘This is not acceptable.’ There are of course risks to institutions, but I think first and foremost it’s about the fact that they want to deliver on their duty of care to students.
EDI: Lastly, would you kindly be able to tell us about your professional background and how you came to work at Universities UK?
Fiona Waye: Yes – I’ve been there for quite a while now! I’ve been privileged that Universities UK has allowed me to work in a whole range of different policy areas, and that’s why I stayed. I was involved in setting up the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), and I worked there for a while. I worked with GuildHE. And I’ve worked on student experience policy, so Universities UK has given me the opportunity to keep moving on and doing different things, which has been wonderful, so I’ve really enjoyed that.
EDI: Thank you ever so much for your time – we really appreciate it.
* Fiona Waye is Senior Policy Lead in Inclusion, Equality and Diversity at Universities UK.