University wins funding to tackle sexual harassment

HEFCE story

The University has been awarded a £50,000 grant to take forward an ambitious culture change programme

The University of Portsmouth is to share in £2.45 million funding from HEFCE to address concerns about sexual violence and harassment on university and college campuses.

The grants, from HEFCE’s Catalyst Fund, were issued in response to a report by the Universities UK Harassment Task Force which explored the nature and scale of the problem in higher education, and highlighted the need for institutions to respond more effectively.

The projects have been developed with students, who will have pivotal roles in their delivery. They cover a wide range of activity, including training and awareness raising, digital innovation, and new approaches to prevention and reporting.

A working group established by the University of Portsmouth’s safeguarding board has been awarded a £50,000 grant to take forward an ambitious culture change programme sponsored by Pro Vice Chancellor for Education and Student Experience, Professor Paul Hayes.

The working group was founded last year to implement recommendations made in the Universities UK Changing the Culture report for addressing incidents of sexual violence and hate crime on UK campuses.

Dr Denise Meyer, head of the Student Wellbeing Service at the University, is leading the working group. She explained that the successful bid – made in partnership with the Students’ Union, the local police and Portsmouth Abuse and Rape Crisis service, as well as nationally The 1752 Group and Universities UK – will fund a series of high profile campaigns to institute anonymous reporting of any incidents of harassment, bullying, violence or intimidation and to develop a Bystander Intervention training programme for both students and staff to help tackle issues of bullying and violence affecting members of the University community.

Dr Meyer said: “The University is already known for its supportive and inclusive approach, and this project aims to build on these strengths to develop an even stronger culture of active citizenship in which every member of the University community feels able to play an active part in upholding a culture of dignity and respect as the underpinning of a vibrant learning community.”

The funding will ensure that the pilot bystander intervention training programmes can be evaluated and filmed, as the basis for developing digital resources to roll out to all students. The aim will be to build these resources in to transition and induction processes for all students, and to develop higher level online training for students in leadership roles.

The wider project will also include a particular focus on the important issue of staff-student sexual harassment, which was named as a ‘next step’ in the Universities UK Changing the Culture report.

Dr Anna Bull, a lecturer in sociology at the University, is leading on the staff-student sexual misconduct aspect of the project. This work is being carried out in conjunction with national lobby group The 1752 Group, of which she is a co-founder.

Dr Bull said: “The University of Portsmouth is doing internationally pioneering work by including staff-student sexual misconduct in its wider initiatives around sexual harassment. This is also a pre-emptive safeguarding measure. Research evidence from the US shows that postgraduate students are particularly at risk of staff sexual misconduct, and as the University is looking to expand its postgraduate provision, this project will ensure that our safeguarding practices for postgraduates are the best in the world.

“In addition, following the Guardian’s coverage of staff-student sexual misconduct last week, the University’s work in this area is both timely, and much needed. Our partnership with Universities UK will ensure that findings from this project will feed into the development of national guidelines around staff-student sexual misconduct, as well as making sure the University is leading on best practice in this area”.

HEFCE Chief Executive, Professor Madeleine Atkins, said: “All students should feel safe and supported during their time in higher education. Universities and colleges are working hard to tackle issues of sexual harassment and violence on campus, but there is more to be done. Their determination and commitment is evident in the overwhelmingly positive response to HEFCE’s Catalyst Fund call.

“We are delighted to be supporting a range of innovative projects, and we will be looking to share good practice and evidence of successful outcomes over the coming months.”

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