Higher Education After #MeToo

Report launch event

The launch event for the final report from the research project Higher Education After #MeToo will be held on 22 June 2023, 1-2.30pm, as an online webinar. You can reserve your free place here; all welcome.

Read the report!

If you prefer to read a summary version, here it is

About the project

Higher Education After #MeToo: Institutional responses to reports of gender-based violence and harassment is an ESRC-funded project led by Principal Investigator Anna Bull with Senior Research Associate Erin Shannon. This study aims to capture some of the changes that have been occurring in UK higher education institutional responses to gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) since 2016. It focuses specifically on reporting and disciplinary processes, paying attention to how formal reports are being handled as well as what happened when interviewees disclose but do not report. Unlike our previous research which has been concerned with staff-student sexual misconduct, this study also includes interviewees who disclosed or reported staff-staff and student-student GBVH. The research analyses accounts from victim-survivors who reported or disclosed to their institutions as well as perspectives from staff in a variety of roles who were involved in handling reports/complaints of gender-based violence and harassment in higher education.

Summary of key findings

  • There is some evidence of good quality, specialist support being provided to students who were targeted for GBVH (although not all students in this study received such support). This does not appear to extend to support for staff reporting parties.
  • A lack of detailed guidance at sector-level means that staff responding to disclosures/reports of GBVH are carrying a high level of risk. This also means that work is being duplicated at individual institutions, and institutional responses to disclosures/reports of GBVH vary greatly across the sector.
  • The most common outcome of a formal report among this sample was responding parties (both staff and students) leaving the institution or graduating during an investigation/disciplinary process. This study was not representative of any wider populations, so this finding is not generalisable. However, it does indicate that better systems for information-sharing between institutions are needed to tackle this issue.
  • There is a high level of variation between higher education institutions in how GBVH is being handled, including the level of investment; whether specialist staff are employed; whether appropriate systems and policies are in place; and HEIs’ willingness to take robust action in response to reports. In general, student services are more advanced in this work than HR departments.
  • While there is a substantial amount of work that can be done at the level of individual institutions to improve systems, there are urgent sector-level or structural issues that need to be addressed in order to ensure that GBVH reports are appropriately handled. While some HEIs are attempting to tackle these issues at institution-level, such complex legal and procedural questions require a standardized approach. These include:
    • The reporting party being structurally disadvantaged in reporting processes, with fewer rights than responding parties. The variation in reporting parties’ rights according to whether they are staff or students, and whether they are reporting misconduct from staff or students.
    • The lack of appropriate alternative options to formal disciplinary processes.
    • The reporting process being centred on the responding party, which includes a lack of remedy for reporting parties.
    • Related to the above points, the inappropriateness of the standard grievance/complaints/disciplinary process for tackling sexual harassment.
    • The continued lack of clarity around information-sharing between institutions.
  • Despite some evidence of good practice from the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU), this report found that some UCU local branches are prioritising representation for responding parties over reporting parties, and that in some cases UCU representatives are using harmful tactics to defend staff respondents.
  • As the findings of this study show that actions are most urgently needed at sector-level, the recommendations focus on actions that are needed from sector organisations including the Health and Safety Executive, the Office for the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, UCU, ACAS, the Office for Students, and others.