POLITICS
25/05/2021 17:36 BST

Force Universities To Collect Data On Sex Harassment, Labour Tells Government

Office for Students review "falls woefully short" of measures needed to protect women, says shadow minister.

Hollie Adams via Getty Images
 A placard saying 'End Rape Culture' attached to the fence outside James Allen's Girls' School (JAGS) on March 28, 2021 in London, England. 

Universities should be forced to collect data on sex harassment complaints by students, Labour has said. 

Shadow minister Matt Western told HuffPost UK a review by the independent regulator, the Office for Students, setting out “expectations” of higher education institutions fell “woefully short” of protecting young people on campus. 

It comes after the Everyone’s Invited project allowed thousands of students to give personal testimonies in confidence, and exposed widespread sex harassment, abuse and assault on campuses. 

The website’s research estimated as many as 50,000 incidents of sexual harassment have been taking place at universities every year. 

The Office for Students review called on all English higher education institutions to review their policies, systems and procedures before the next academic year. 

But Western said education secretary Gavin Williamson should act now to order universities to collect data – something the opposition believes is vital to ensure the sector and government can be held to account. 

The party also urged the regulator to engage directly with experts in violence against women and girls in order to better support victims. 

After a year of lockdown, students have begun to return to in-person learning and activities on campus. 

Western said: “Despite much talk about tackling ‘rape culture’ on campuses, the Conservatives have failed to take steps to secure students’ safety.

“These so called ‘expectations’ fall woefully short. They carry no force and provide no support for universities to actually deliver the desired outcomes.  

“Labour is taking action to tackle violence against women and girls because the government are failing to. Higher education providers must be given support now to end the sexual harassment women are facing across university campuses.”

Office for Students’ chief executive Nicola Dandridge did not rule out mandatory data collection at universities after education chiefs reviewed policies. 

JOHN SIBLEY via Getty Images
Education secretary Gavin Williamson

She said: “Our new statement of expectations outlines the practical steps universities and colleges can take to prevent and respond to incidents of sexual harassment and assault. We have called on universities and colleges to review their policies and procedures now, ahead of the new academic year.

“We will then examine how universities and colleges respond, listen to feedback from students’ and their representatives, and consider options for connecting the statement directly to our conditions of registration.”

Ministers have been under pressure to step up efforts to ensure women’s safety following the killing of Sarah Everard. 

Everard’s kidnap and murder took place as the 33-year-old was walking home from a friend’s flat in March. It sparked an outpouring of anger and fresh demands for action.  

Labour has published its own strategy on tackling violence against women and girls and has accused Boris Johnson of ignoring an “epidemic of misogyny” after no specific bill on violence against women was set out in the Queen’s Speech.

The strategy includes proposals to create a specific offence of street harassment, making misogyny a hate crime and whole life sentences for people who rape, abduct and murder strangers.

The government is expected to publish proposals later this year. 

Justice secretary Robert Buckland, meanwhile, is expected to introduce a new penalty of up to two years in jail for those who identify rape victims online.