The OfS Consultation on Sexual Harassment — Responses, Concerns and the GoodCourse View
Hannah West
Research Lead
In this article;

Now the consultation period of the OfS proposal to tackle harassment and sexual misconduct in higher-ed has come to a close, we’re taking a look a some of the responses from the sector and beyond.

The consultation aimed to gather views from students, staff, and other stakeholders on how to create a safer and more inclusive environment for everyone in higher education. One of the key proposals was for universities to provide regular training on topics such as consent, bystander intervention, and how to report incidents of harassment and sexual misconduct. 

We’ve rounded up the responses below, but you can also learn more about the specifics of the consultation and the work we’ve been doing with Portsmouth University to engage students on these topics at scale, here.

Responses to the Consultation

The OfS consultation sought feedback from HEIs and students through a series of specific questions which included:

  • Do you agree or disagree with the proposal to introduce a new general ongoing condition of registration relating to harassment and sexual misconduct? 
  • Do you agree or disagree with the proposal that minimum content requirements should be specified for the single document we propose a provider should maintain? 
  • Do you agree or disagree with the proposal that a provider should be required to have the capacity and resources necessary to facilitate compliance with this condition?

Many responded positively to the consultation, acknowledging that the proposed regulations are addressing issues that students and faculty alike have been requesting for a long time. There were however concerns about the scale of the challenge to provide mandatory training to all students in such a short space of time.

Law firm Shakespeare Martineau expressed concerns about the amount of work higher education institutions (HEI) will be required to implement stating, “The proposed condition places on providers a responsibility that they are very unlikely to be able to discharge from the outset.”

The training requirements were a key focus in the response by UUK, which stated “We would also encourage OfS to engage with specialist training providers already operating in the sector, to understand how training could be implemented most effectively.”

And similarly, this sentiment was echoed by higher education expert Julian Sladdin, Partner at Pinsent Masons, who stated:

“There is a continued need to promote training for both staff and students on consent and the raising of awareness of the issues of harassment and sexual misconduct as part of any prevention strategy. 

It is a timely reminder of concerns raised by students about lack of education around sex and relationships. In 2021 a HEPI survey suggested 58% of students believe that some form of training or assessment to show that a student understands sexual consent should be required when starting a degree,” he said.”

The GoodCourse View

Here at GoodCourse, we’ve been working with Higher Education Institutions for many years to bring a fresh, new approach to solving the challenge of engaging students on harassment and sexual misconduct topics. Harassment and misconduct continue to be serious issues on university campuses with more than 50% of students experiencing unwanted sexual behaviour (Brook), and almost a quarter of ethnic minority students experiencing racial harassment (EHRC).

  • We are supportive of the definition of sexual misconduct, and welcome the consistency with the definition set out in the statement of expectations as many universities will already be working on this basis
  • We appreciate the OfS's clear attention to the link between harassment and freedom of expression. While we do not perceive efforts to uphold free speech and efforts to combat harassment as fundamentally conflicting, we recognise that finding the right balance between these responsibilities requires thoughtful deliberation.
  • We are in favour of regulating student relationships with relevant staff. Some of the universities GoodCourse has partnered with, such as the University of Nottingham, had already regulated this prior to the OfS consultation.
  • We are supportive of the proposal for a clear single policy document so all students know how to report harassment and access support. Ensuring this document is easily accessible and not unwieldy to navigate through will be key in ensuring the most pertinent resources are signposted accordingly.

And of course here at GoodCourse, we also fundamentally believe in the power of effective education as a means of building cultural change to create safer campuses. Whilst we understand the concerns expressed around the practicalities of implementing harassment training, we’re also bullish about the power of technology to solve problems at scale, as demonstrated with our recent work helping LJMU to satisfy their Ofsted student training requirements.

About GoodCourse 

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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