Are you expecting universities and colleges to take the place of police in investigating instances of harassment and sexual misconduct?
No. We are proposing that universities and colleges should deal with reports of harassment or sexual misconduct in a way that's fair, clear and easy to understand. This should include how they deal with a disciplinary issue that may also be a criminal offence.
Universities UK and Pinsent Masons have produced helpful guidance for universities and colleges on cases of misconduct which may also be crimes.
As part of this process universities and colleges should consider signposting or referring students to the police, as well as the NHS, sexual assault referral centres or hate crime reporting centres.
How does the OfS expect universities and colleges to respond to cases where something may have happened off campus?
Universities and colleges should investigate (for example, as a disciplinary matter) complaints made in relation to any of its registered students. This would include harassment or sexual misconduct cases that have occurred off campus, including between students in privately rented student accommodation.
We would also expect universities and colleges to consider the support they need to offer to students who have experienced harassment or sexual misconduct regardless of where the incident occurred.
Can a student expect their university or college to respond if harassment or sexual misconduct occurs whilst the student is on a placement (within the UK or abroad)?
We would expect universities and colleges to be responsible for the welfare of all their registered students, regardless of the location of where they are studying. A university or college's responsibility extends to students studying on placements and on courses overseas where the university or college is the awarding body.
This is in line with paragraph 88 of our regulatory framework which states that ‘the obligations of the registered provider extend to students for whom it is the awarding body, wherever and however they study’.
What support would the OfS expect a university or college to offer to students involved in an investigatory process, including both the student(s) making the complaint and the student(s) that the complaint is about?
We are proposing that universities and colleges should ensure that all students involved in an investigatory process have equitable access to appropriate and effective support and are kept informed about the investigation as appropriate. This includes both the person(s) who made the complaint and the person(s) that the complaint is against.
We would also expect universities and colleges to consider the support they need to offer students before, during and after an investigatory process.
The type of support offered will depend on the individual and the circumstances but might include: counselling sessions, academic adjustments, ensuring the student who reported the incident and the person who the complaint is made against do not have to share residential or academic spaces, or support with options such as referring incidents to the police.
Regardless of the result of the investigatory process, universities and colleges should consider what pastoral care and extra academic support the student will need (for instance, access to counselling or wellbeing services or signposting to local support networks).
What constitutes a ‘fair and transparent’ complaints process?
When considering whether a university or college's procedures are fair, transparent and accessible to all students we propose to take account of points 5, 6 and 7 of the statement of expectations.
In broad terms, ‘fairness’ will be understood to mean that the complaint process is fit for purpose, operated in an effective and timely manner and that fair treatment and support is available for those involved.
What constitutes an ‘adequate and effective’ reporting process?
Points 5, 6 and 7 of the proposed statement of expectations outline what we would expect from an adequate and effective reporting process. These include universities and colleges having:
- policies and processes in place for students to report and disclose incidents of harassment, sexual misconduct and hate crime
- a fair, clear and accessible approach to taking action in response to reports and disclosures
- systems to ensure that students involved in an investigatory process have access to appropriate and effective support.
Universities and colleges may find it helpful to consider the effective practice in relation to the non-academic disciplinary procedures set out in the Office of the Independent Adjudicator's Good Practice Framework.