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Our response to the Office for Students consultation on tackling harassment and sexual misconduct in higher education

Posted on 18 May 2023

We recently responded to the Office for Students (OfS) consultation on a new approach to regulating harassment and sexual misconduct in English higher education.

The consultation recognises the seriousness of the issue of harassment and sexual misconduct on English campuses and the OfS' perceived failures of self-regulation by universities and colleges to address such issues. The OfS is proposing a different approach to regulation in order to reduce incidents of harassment and sexual misconduct and ensure student confidence that they will be supported if such an incident does occur.

The OfS' proposal is to impose a new condition of registration which would, among other things:

  • Provide a standardised definition of harassment and sexual misconduct;
  • Require institutions to make clear what steps it will take and what support it will provide if incidents occur;
  • Ensure institutions put in place adequate training and resources to handle incidents; and
  • Place regulatory requirements on personal relationships between staff and students.

In imposing this new condition, the OfS has emphasised that it still wants to ensure freedom of speech and academic freedom are protected.

In our response to the consultation, Mishcon de Reya welcomes the proposal of a new condition of registration. However, we recognise that more works needs to be done with respect to the specifics of the proposal. For example, there should be a distinction between the factual conclusions of any investigation (which should be relayed to those directly affected by the incident) and any disciplinary outcomes (which may need to be kept confidentially). Further, in relation to free speech and academic freedom, more thought is needed so as to ensure proper compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023.

To read our response in full, please see here.

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