A report investigating violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students has been published by Universities UK (UUK). The Taskforce who produced the report, called ‘Changing the culture’, was established in September 2015 after evidence from NUS showing considerable instances of sexual harassment and violence in UK universities prompted the Minister of State for Universities, Jo Johnson, to request an investigation.

The report confirms that violence, hate crime and harassment are present in UK universities and that although some positive steps have been taken, universities’ responses are “not as comprehensive, systematic and joined-up as they could be.” It cites government analysis showing that the prevalence rate for full-time, female students as victims of a sexual offence is 6.8 per cent, compared to  three per cent of all females.

The Taskforce also recognises previously raised concerns regarding ‘lad culture’, referencing a 2010 NUS survey of women students in which 68 per cent of respondents had experienced verbal or physical sexual harassment on campus. However, the Taskforce finds the term ‘lad culture’ potentially problematic, claiming it may insinuate reference to something “trivial and not serious.”

Among the key findings of the report is the concern that universities do not adopt a coherent, institution-wide approach, thus damaging the effectiveness of their strategies. As part of an effort to change this, the report recommends “data collection, appropriate governance, robust risk management and regular impact assessments.”

Continual engagement with students is also indicated as vitally important as well as universities’ role in promoting positive behaviour within the student body. Examples of measures universities could take to fulfil this role include “evidence-based bystander initiative programmes” and “facilitating a culture of zero tolerance.”

The report emphasises the importance of partnerships, underlining the need for collaboration with the police, community leaders and specialist services to ensure adequate training for staff, support for students and the development of effective policies, referring specifically to procedures for responding to disclosures of sexual violence. In this light the necessity of “visible and accessible reporting mechanisms” for students is highlighted.

The report acknowledges the positive work currently taking place in many universities but expresses disappointment that much of this work has not been shared within the sector.

The issues highlighted by the report are reflective of findings specific to students’ experiences in Cambridge University, with the 2014 ‘Cambridge Speaks Out’ report conducted by CUSU’s Women’s Campaign finding that 77 per cent of respondents had experienced sexual harassment. Responding to the UUK report, Audrey Sebatindira, CUSU’s Women’s Officer, called it “both welcome and necessary” and stated that the university “is already, of its own volition, starting to conform to some of the Report’s recommendations.” However, she adds that “it still has a long way to go and the Report will likely prove an excellent resource as Cambridge moves forward in eradicating sexual harassment and assault on campus.”

Cambridge University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, Graham Virgo, also welcomed the report, commenting that it is “consistent with work we have already been undertaking.” Virgo stated that the university “engaged with UUK’s Taskforce from the outset and have already developed a robust set of protocols which are consistent with many of the recommendations. These include a new procedure for consideration of cases where one student alleges sexual misconduct by another student.” Virgo also cited initiatives such as “consent workshops and the adoption of codes of acceptable conduct by sports teams” as further elements in the university’s policy, supporting “cultural and behavioural change founded on mutual respect between students”