Navigating Change: Understanding New OfS Condition for H&SM in Universities
Hannah West
Research Lead
In this article;

In recent years, the Office for Students (OfS) has been on a mission to combat harassment and sexual misconduct (H&SM) within universities in England. Their latest move is a proposed new condition of registration, suggesting a formal regulatory obligation for universities. Given GoodCourse’s work with various university leaders on these topics, this guide aims to shed light on the proposed changes and where various HEIs are focusing their efforts.

The New Condition - what to expect

Between February and May 2023, the OfS conducted a comprehensive consultation on the proposed new condition for universities in England. The focus is on several key strands that together will shape the future approach to handling harassment and sexual misconduct. 

Although the condition has not been agreed upon in full as of yet, here is an overview of what is likely to be included in it, based on the consultation period and feedback from other Higher Education bodies:

  1. Clear Definitions. Universities will be expected to provide explicit definitions for harassment and sexual misconduct to ensure consistency across the sector, per the definitions found in the Equality Act 2010: ‘harassment, including sexual harassment, includes unwanted behaviour or conduct [of a sexual nature] which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment’ relating to protected characteristics.
  1. Single Document. The new condition will likely require universities to maintain a centralised document outlining policies and procedures related to harassment and sexual misconduct. This document should explain the steps the institution will take to protect students from H&SM, arrangements for handling incidents, support resources and training provided to students and staff.
  1. Resource Allocation. Universities will be expected to allocate sufficient capacity and resources to effectively meet the proposed condition and consider where more resources might be necessary, with more at-risk student groups, for example.
  1. Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom. All HEIs will have to comply with all of the proposed requirements while also respecting freedom of speech and academic freedom. This means that all staff must have a clear idea of what constitutes harassment and what constitutes freedom of speech.
  1. Ban on NDAs. The new condition will likely prohibit the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in cases of harassment and sexual misconduct. This means there can be no contractual agreements stating that someone cannot speak about an allegation of harassment or sexual misconduct.
  1. Disclosure of Relationships. A long-standing cause for concern by the OfS has led them to include a requirement for relevant staff to disclose personal relationships with students and for the HEI to maintain a register of such relationships. The alternative for this is for universities to ban these kinds of relationships entirely.
  1. Student and staff training. Finally, the OfS will include requirements for how the above ought to be carried out. This will mean a requirement for regular training given to all staff and students, on issues relating to harassment and sexual misconduct. This aims to increase understanding and prevention.
The Emphasis on Training

In addition to the proposed condition, the OfS has emphasised the importance of training for staff and students. Universities will be expected to provide appropriate and effective training to prevent, identify, and respond to incidents of harassment and sexual misconduct in a proactive manner. This is not just a regulatory obligation but a moral imperative to create a safe and inclusive environment for everyone on campus. In the case of this condition, training will be the tangible, practical way to bring all of the OfS requirements into action.

Effective training can empower staff and students to recognise and report inappropriate behaviour, while also ensuring they understand the impact of harassment and sexual misconduct on victims. Additionally, training can help staff members identify their own biases and prevent conflicts of interest.

By implementing comprehensive policies, allocating resources, banning NDAs, maintaining a relationships register, and providing effective training, universities can create a safe and supportive environment for all members of their community. Through our work with lots of universities, we see an increasing focus on meeting the proposed condition of registration while creating a culture where everyone feels respected and valued.

As the landscape of handling harassment and sexual misconduct in universities evolves, it's essential for institutions to stay informed and prepared. The proposed condition by the Office for Students signals a shift towards more formal regulation. If you’d like to learn more about what other HEIs in England are doing in preparation, let us know — together, we can navigate the changing terrain and work towards a future where every student feels safe and supported.

About GoodCourse

Universities use GoodCourse to improve student outcomes by delivering impactful training courses, built for today’s learners — by pairing TikTok-style content with expert research.

From preventing sexual harassment to learning how to be active bystanders, universities use GoodCourse to provide student and staff populations with the tools to build safer, more inclusive campuses.

Talk to a member of our team today to learn about how other universities are improving student outcomes, student safety, and preparing to meet this new condition of registration.

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?

The future of training is here, are you ready for it?

Tired of chasing your learners to complete dull training? Let's speak today👇
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.