Speaking to the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee, the Office for Students (OfS) announced on 12 October 2022 that it will propose and consult on a new condition of registration for higher education providers, which will impose mandatory requirements to address harassment and sexual misconduct. The OfS will conduct the consultation in early 2023, with the aim of finalising the condition in time for universities and colleges to comply with the new requirements by the start of the next academic year.
Why is the OfS doing this?
In January 2020, the OfS published a Statement of Expectations (SoE)to provide a framework to support higher education providers in preventing and responding to incidents of harassment and sexual misconduct that affect their students. The OfS has since commissioned an independent evaluation of the actions that universities and colleges have taken in response to the SoE.
Whilst the full evaluation will be published in November, preliminary findings indicate that more work needs to be done to drive the changes required in this area. Higher education providers report that they have followed the recommendations set out in the SoE to improve their systems and put in place appropriate policies, including making it easier to report incidents of sexual misconduct. However, feedback from students suggests that these efforts have not necessarily translated into the consistent and timely impact that is needed. For instance, there is evidence that many students either do not know what to do if they are the victim of harassment or sexual misconduct; or have had poor experiences when reporting such incidents to their university or college. The OfS has therefore announced that it will establish sharper mandatory requirements by developing and consulting on a new condition of registration to tackle such issues.
In addition, the OfS is currently designing a pilot 'prevalence survey', which it plans to run in parallel with the above consultation. The aim of the survey is to gather data to understand the scale and nature of sexual misconduct within higher education in England, including the types of students that are affected and the contexts in which they are being affected. This data will also allow the OfS to target their interventions appropriately, such as universities where there is a high prevalence of sexual misconduct but few reported cases.
Please watch this space for updates on the proposed regulatory requirements. If you have any queries or would like to speak to a member of our Education team, please contact Robert Lewis.