Universities across England are starting to prepare for the proposed regulation from the OfS which will require higher education providers (HEIs) to safeguard against sexual misconduct and harassment on campus.
Sector professionals have long been advocating for much-needed improvements in this area; however many of the requirements pose a huge logistical undertaking for HEIs across the board.
In this episode of the GoodCourse EDI Leaders Podcast, Chris Mansfield sat down with Professor Phil Vickerman, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Student Experience at LJMU, to discuss his thoughts on the proposed condition of registration, how to engage students on these issues, and more.
Phil’s all-encompassing role combines responsibility for academic development, curriculum design and helping students to foster a sense of belonging, so this one’s not to be missed. Hit play below or read on to learn more.
Chris: Can we start with hearing your initial thoughts on the OfS consultation and what you’re hearing from peers across the sector?
There are a range of reasons for the new condition. For one, full-time students are more likely to experience sexual assault than any other occupational group, so urgent change was needed. Secondly, the Quality of Human Rights Commission found that 1 in 4 ethnic minority students have experienced some kind of racial harassment on campus. We have also seen a rise in antisemitism too. So the proposed condition does focus on sexual harassment, but it does go broader too — their goal is to ensure that all students can study without facing harassment in any way.
From speaking to my peers within the sector, we can see that the OfS had thought sector regulation and voluntary standards would be enough. However, what they found was that there wasn’t enough consistency around the implementation of systems, reporting policies and prevention. The OfS has recognised some improvements across the sector, but there are variations in practice. They want to raise the bar even further with this new condition.
At LJMU I think we do take it really seriously here in a proactive way, and there are many institutions that do likewise. However, there are areas of the sector that have been identified with practice that could be developed even further.
From my experience, it is a mixed picture. At LJMU I think we do take it really seriously here in a proactive way, and there are many institutions that do likewise. However, there are areas of the sector that have been identified with practice that could be developed even further. It’s the detail behind it that counts, and that is what the OfS is trying to do here.
Chris: Why, in your view, has it proven so hard to engage students in non-credit-bearing topics such as harassment?
I think the way in which we present the information to students is critical, as well as making it relatable and encouraging students to reflect on their experiences so that it feels more relevant to them. Presenting it in a way that students can identify with is a challenge.
The other crucial thing is the language we use to deliver the information. When we say ‘’mandatory training,” students might start to disengage because they don’t understand how it applies to them or how it will help them. This has been crucial in the work we have done with GoodCourse; it centres around finding new and engaging ways to deliver this kind of content — it’s meaningful, impactful and delivered in bite-sized chunks. That is what makes it effective. We also included students in co-creating the courses, which helps massively.
The work we have done with GoodCourse is about how the information is presented and that it is presented in a way that is meaningful, impactful, in bite-sized chunks.
Students will always focus more on credit-bearing courses that contribute to their degree, but there are ways we can increase engagement on this kind of content.
Chris: What are you doing at LJMUJ to prepare for the new condition?
We already do a lot in reporting and governance. We already have a safeguarding board and a Sexual Violence, Hate Crime and Harassment group that I chair. Finally, we have policies and protocols for managing incidents if and when they do occur.
This doesn't mean we aren't continuing to do the work, though. We have recently procured Report and Support and will have that in place from September this year. This will be a single point of contact for anyone reporting concerns. However, while we are in a good position, there are challenges regarding what the OfS might expect from student awareness, training and staff requirements too.
We also need to recognise the sensitivities of those who have been victims of harassment. There needs to be more open discussion and acknowledgement of the issues across LJMU and the sector.
I recognise the importance of moving at pace, but we also need to recognise the sensitivities of those who have been victims of harassment. There needs to be more open discussion and acknowledgement of the issues across LJMU and the sector. Whether this will all be done by September by all institutions is challenging, but I also recognise why the OfS wants to move forward quickly.
We also want to ensure we don't rush into anything, but do things in a managed and supportive way at all times. When there are more robust reporting mechanisms in place, we will have more reports to deal with which is not a bad thing, but we need to be ready to deal with increased reporting and make sure we investigate and provide support to students.
Chris: How has your experience been working with GoodCourse to meet requirements around student training?
We had a review from Ofsted about our degree apprenticeship programs, and a piece of feedback was about safeguarding and Prevent. We needed to provide bite-sized training to our apprenticeships in a way that allowed us to monitor who was engaging and provide support as needed.
What I particularly liked about working with GoodCourse was the content creation and the willingness you had to work with us to develop resources and materials that directly apply to LJMU’s context.
What I particularly liked about working with GoodCourse was the content creation and the willingness you had to work with us to develop resources and materials that directly apply to LJMU’s context. It wasn't choosing an off-the-shelf fixed package, but it had structure, and you were very receptive to looking at our needs. The content creation that went on between our staff and GoodCourse worked very well, in my opinion. It was very open and free-flowing, and they were always willing to try things out. The proof is in the very high levels of student engagement we’ve had, tackling very important issues.
The proof is in the very high levels of student engagement we’ve had, tackling very important issues.
Chris: What are your top tips for helping universities to prepare for the new condition?
- Be clear from the outset about what you are trying to achieve - if you aren't clear from the start, then how will you articulate it to everyone in an effective way?
- Listen to the views of stakeholders, students and staff - people who know what they are talking about. I’d also recommend listening to and working with knowledgeable content creators, and being willing to change your approach when necessary.
- Monitor the change process as you go. Be prepared to improve and take feedback into consideration.
GoodCourse is the harassment and inclusion training platform built for student engagement. By pairing TikTok-style content with expert-made research, we help student leaders to create cultural change by delivering impactful training courses. Courses students actually enjoy.
From preventing sexual harassment to learning how to be active bystanders, GoodCourse equips your student populations with the tools to build a safer, more inclusive campus.
Talk to a member of our team today to learn how we’re helping higher education institutions across the sector satisfy the proposed OfS training requirements with our purpose-built solution.
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