Content note for this edition: sexual harassment, suicide
Local developments and trends
1. Sussex University Freedom of Information (FoI) requests
2. Cases from our Support and Advocacy team
3. #LateAgainB&H - student campaign to improve buses
National developments and trends
1.1752 report on institutional responses to staff sexual misconduct in UK higher education
2. Vice Chancellors call for ban of essay mills
3. Decline in pay premia between undergraduate and postgraduate degrees
4. Students opt-in for their parents to receive ‘mental health alerts’
5. University of Manchester SU swaps clapping for BSL ‘jazz hands’
1.1. Sussex University Freedom of Information (FoI) requests
We track publicly submitted requests for information from the University as they may reveal information we want to respond to.
No new FoI requests have been submitted in the past 2 weeks.
1.2. Cases from our Support and Advocacy team
The following graph shows the case types and numbers over the past month (10th September to 9th October).
The largest section of cases logged this month was for academic appeals, comprising of 61.8% of all new cases.
1.3 #LateAgainB&H - student campaign to improve buses
A new student-led campaign has been launched to improve buses across Brighton. #LateAgainB&H was created to lobby B&H Buses to tackle the punctuality, frequency and capacity of bus routes to the University. The campaign’s mission statement on their Facebook page states:
“Our mission is for an improved commute for Sussex students.
We want to make sure buses arrive at university at suitable times, on time. We want to increase the number of buses on routes to university, especially around peak times and each hour. We want to make sure there is enough space on buses so that they do not drive past students and cause them to be late.”
The student campaign coincides with SU President Frida Gustafsson’s goal to improve transport to and from campus, which recently saw a win in the form of B&H introducing more route 25 buses between 8:30 and 9am following Frida’s lobbying via Twitter .
2.1 1752 report on institutional responses to staff sexual misconduct in UK higher education
The 1752 group, a research and lobbying organisation focused on ending sexual misconduct in higher education, has published a report looking at institutional responses to staff sexual misconduct in UK higher education. The report, authored by Anna Bull of the University of Portsmouth and independent researcher Rachel Rye, draws together responses from interviews with students and early career researchers and analyses policies on staff sexual misconduct at a sample of 25 institutions.
The University of Sussex is praised for its stringent staff/student relationship policy, and the report notes that it is an example of reactive rather than proactive policymaking, following national coverage of a lecturer at the university being convicted of domestic violence offences against a student. However, the report states that ‘while this policy is a good example of a more robust approach to staff-student relationships, it does not implement all the recommendations made by Nicole Westmarland in her review of this case, such as that relationships where one person is in a relative position of power “should undergo additional and ongoing checks”. ’
The report finds that, from its sample, only one member of staff lost his job after being reported for sexual misconduct with twelve remaining in post. The report focuses predominantly on reporting to HE institutions rather than to the police, as this was the route that most interviewees in this study took.
Many interviewees did not report or disclose to anyone for months or years, sometimes with ongoing misconduct occurring during this time. Interviewees found it difficult to report sexual misconduct to their institutions due to:
• Lack of clarity around what behaviours could be reported
• The difficulty of finding someone within an institution who they could report to or who would act on their report
• The dynamics and impacts of sexual misconduct, which led them to doubt their experience or be too afraid to report
Almost all the interviewees talked about being dissuaded from reporting in some way:
• This included institutions deliberately keeping no written records about a report, or misplacing written complaints
• For six interviewees, this meant that there was no formal report made to police or their institution
• Sometimes formal policies themselves functioned as a barrier to formally reporting sexual misconduct, for example:
• Policies had a three-month time limit on making complaints of sexual harassment
• Bullying and harassment policies that recommend the victim informally approach the person who is carrying out the harassment to ask them to stop, before making a formal complaint
• Institutions were more likely to take action to address academic/research misconduct than sexual misconduct
The report recommends that all higher education institutions “explicitly” include sexual misconduct within the definition of research misconduct, that all institutions “urgently” improve their internal investigations processes, and that grooming become recognised as a form of sexual misconduct in staff and student interactions. They have also published a consultation document on recommendations and guidance for disciplinary processes into staff sexual misconduct developed with a law firm.
2.2 Vice Chancellors call for ban of essay mills
More than 40 university chiefs are reported to have written to the Education Secretary calling for a ban on so-called “essay mills” due to concerns that they are ‘undermining the integrity of degree courses’.
As many as one in seven recent graduates may have cheated by using “essay mills” during the last four years, according to a recent study. The study by Swansea University, published in August, reviewed questionnaires dating back to 1978 where students were asked if they had ever paid for someone else to complete their work. The findings – covering 54,514 participants – showed a 15.7% rise in the number of students who admitted cheating between 2014 and 2018
Universities Minister Sam Gyimah has said outlawing the services completely remains an option, although work is ongoing to tackle the problem by other means.
He said: “I expect universities to be educating students about these services and highlight the stiff, and possibly life-changing, penalties they face. I also want the sector to do more to grip the problem; for example, by tackling advertising of these services in their institutions and finally blocking these services from sending an alarming number of emails to the inboxes of university students and staff.”
Essay mills are illegal in some countries and a parliamentary petition is already under way calling for them to be banned. There are laws against essay mills in New Zealand and 17 states of the USA, with Ireland and Australia set to follow.
2.3 Decline in pay premia between undergraduate and postgraduate degrees
A recent study released by ONS indicates that there has been a decline in pay premia between undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.
In 2004 the average premium for "first and other degrees" was 41%, but by 2017, it had reduced to 24%. The same has happened for "masters and doctorates" - where the pay premia has declined from 69% in 2004 to 48% in 2017. Although the premia for graduates is still significant, the downward trend will provide ammo to those who argue that "too many people are going to university", ONS says that "one explanation for this could be a large increase in the proportion of the population with a university degree".
Nonetheless, we can say that workers belonging to “first degree or other” or to “masters and doctorates” categories earn more than the average worker.
2.4 Students opt-in for their parents to receive ‘mental health alerts’
The University of Bristol has reported that almost all of its students have opted for their parents to receive "mental health alerts" in a new initiative which gives university staff permission to get in touch with a student's contact of choice if they are experiencing mental health problems.
Thousands of students at Bristol University have opted in to a suicide-prevention scheme giving the university explicit permission to contact their parents if they are struggling to cope mentally or emotionally with life on campus. As they arrived for the start of the academic year last week, 94% of freshers and existing students signed a form during enrolment naming a parent or other responsible adult the university can contact if their mental health deteriorates.
The initiative has been introduced as a response to the ten students who have died at the university in the past two years, all of whom are believed to have taken their own lives. None of the students knew each other and the deaths were unconnected.
In some of the cases it was revealed that the students had alerted the university to their poor health before their death and the warnings were not passed on to families. The overwhelming take-up of the scheme means that other universities are likely to adopt it.
Currently there is a legal grey area around the issue of contacting students’ parents. Some universities say that students are adults with full rights to privacy and their lawyers advise against contacting parents. Others say that there is no legal impediment to contacting parents if a student’s health and wellbeing is at stake, and have done so freely in the past.
Hugh Brady, vice-chancellor of Bristol, said that he was delighted at the response of the students. The scheme is part of a larger package of measures designed to support students’ wellbeing more effectively.
“This includes an ‘opt-in’ policy which encourages our students to allow us to include a third party, chosen by the student themselves, in discussions on their mental or physical health where we have significant concerns. This consent is granted via online registration, or in discussion with university staff. The named contact can be changed at any time and consent can be withdrawn or added during a student’s time here at Bristol,” he said.
2.5 University of Manchester SU swaps clapping for BSL ‘jazz hands’
Manchester University’s students’ union has become the latest student body to vote to replace applause with “jazz hands” in an attempt to make events more accessible for people with disabilities.
At its first meeting of the academic year, the union voted to use British sign language clapping, which involves waving your hands in the air, instead of audible clapping, at events.
“This union notes that since 2015, the National Union of Students (NUS) has been using British sign language (BSL) clapping (or ‘jazz hands’), as loud noises, including whooping and traditional applause, can pose an issue for students with disabilities such as anxiety or sensory issues,” the motion read.
The union resolved “to swap audible clapping out for BSL clapping at SU events in order to make them more accessible” and “to encourage student groups and societies to do the same, and to include BSL clapping as part of inclusion training”. In a statement, the union said that BSL applause would be used at democratic events and not gigs, theatre productions or sport.
A spokesperson for the university's student union stressed that clapping "has not been banned, it won't be policed, there's no penalty", instead BSL clapping would be "encouraged to make democratic events more inclusive". The motion was authored by liberation and access officer Sara Khan, and received little opposition from the senate.
The story has been covered in almost every major news outlet in the UK, and many further afield. The Sun, The Metro, ITV News, The Independent, The Mirror, Daily Star, Mail Online, The Express, the BBC, Sky News, i news, the Telegraph and the Guardian all cover the story, as do the Manchester Evening News, The Scotsman, The Week, the NME, the Irish Times, the New Statesman and even the New York Post, Fox News and the Washington Times.
2.13. Comment and opinion pieces
"Should universities tell students how to take drugs safely?" - BBC News
Debt and mental health: a missing puzzle piece - WonkHE
Graduate salaries are no measure of a university's worth - The Guardian
Got a comment/criticism about anything discussed in this article? Let us know on our social media channels!
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