The bane of my life.
So, let’s start from the beginning.
University UK’s predecessor, the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals (CVCP) formed a working group headed by Graham Zellick and published notes of guidance for universities entitled Student Disciplinary Procedures, also known as the Zellick report. It provided guidelines on on cases where a student’s disciplinary breach may also constitute a criminal offence. This guidance suggested that universities should not investigate serious offense like sexual assault and should suspend disciplinary procedures until the student had gone to the police and an investigation had been completed. The aim of the guidance where to protect institutions from legal action but for many years after it meant that few institutions engaged in dealing with sexual violence on campus. The Zellick guidelines shaped university procedures for years to come and became a real barrier for student survivors who wanted to report and get support from their institutions.
After years of campaigning by NUS, student activists and women’s groups the government finally listened. Business Secretary Sajid Javid announced the creation of a taskforce to help reduce violence against women and girls on university campuses. Around the same time I was working at NUS which had just launched the Lad Culture audit report which highlighted that only one in ten universities had near to appropriate policies to cover sexual harassment and assault. Another trend was the use on the 1994 Zellick guidelines. Although I wasn’t sure about the impact of the taskforce itself, we believed that the group would be a good way to finally put an end to the use of Zellick.
So with the help of Rape Crisis England & Wales, the #StandByMe Campaign launched, uniting students across the country to campaign for university to stop using the Zellick guidelines. The campaign also demanded for new guidelines to be created with consultation with students and groups like Rape Crisis.
UUK taskforce announced they would review the Zellick guidelines to bring them into line with human rights legislation and universities’ duty of care to students. An internal working group was created to work on this specific project and whilst I as Women’s officer at the time wasn’t selected for the taskforce, my successor was given a guaranteed place on the working group.
The government taskforce/University UK released the long awaited report Changing the culture: Report of the Universities UK Taskforce examining violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students. Alongside this they also launched new guidance to replace Zellick titled: Guidance for Higher Education Institutions: How to handle Alleged Student Misconduct which may constitute a criminal offence
The report sets out recommendations for institutions and many people in the student activist movement will be happy to see that the #StandbyMe manifesto and consultation recommendations has been heavily embedded within both the report and the guidance.
What are the major changes in this new guidance?
Yes, the new guidance still say that institutions shouldn’t trigger disciplinary actions if the student has gone to the police but it also does suggest the following:
- Students who do not want to go to the police should have the option of a internal investigation within the university.
- Institutions should conduct investigations of sexual violence using the civil standard of proof (“balance of probability”) rather than the criminal standard (“beyond reasonable doubt”).
- Universities can issue precautionary measures during police investigations with risk assessments.
These might seem tiny to some people but will make a huge impact for students in the future if institutions start to follow this guidance.
What’s missing from the new guidance?
The Zellick guidelines failed to mention measures survivor welfare so in that case one could say that anything this new guidance could say about student welfare would be a clear improvement. While this is true, having a duty of care means more than being prepared to conduct internal investigations.
Wellbeing and education issues
Whilst the new guidance has some parts on recognising trauma during investigation, I think it could go further. More and more universities are coming to terms with the fact that student mental health issues are something that institutions need to be active in tackling. Minimising the trauma experienced by student survivors during the initial reporting process and whilst trying to continue their education during and after investigation should be central to this guidance.
Universities should provide emotional and academic support services to survivors as a standard. This is more than just being able to change classes, this is about making sure that students if what they are going through is impacting their mental health and ability to achieve academically, adjustments and extenuating circumstances are options available to them. So many institutions either do not clarify this in the extenuating circumstances or reasonable adjustment policies, or they require that students show a police report as proof. This is not acceptable.
Staff to student harassment
An early criticism of the new report it’s lack of guidance on staff to student harassment. I believe that what the report could have outlined within the section on having a cross institutional approach is making sure that staff-to-student harassment issues are outlined in joint university and students’ union zero-tolerance policy. Students’ union should have the means to support students taking disciplinary action and going through university internal investigations. It’s not just student codes of conduct that need to be amended, its staff’ too. A working group similar to the Zellick Review one that was set up to create new guidance should be the next step forward to rectifying this.
Will it stick?
A great concern of mine which I highlighted when the #StandbyMe manifesto was launched is whilst many universities have been eagerly waiting for guidance, following this guidance is still voluntary. As my former colleague Sarah Green, of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said to the BBC
“But, this is only a first step because while these intentions are good, UUK do not propose any mechanism for enforcement, monitoring is left to individual institutions and there are no recommendations to government for a change in the law should universities not comply with the recommendations,”
Government law and resources — The guidance outlines many changes that need resourcing. For example, the new guidance indicates that people who are involved in the investigation should have training, yet doesn’t indicate what type of training is needed and it only makes sense for there to be a training programme that is consistent across the UK. Also, if we want to track change, incidents of sexual violence in higher education institutions need to be annually collected and published. This shouldn’t be voluntary.
We need to remember that cultural change comes from educating society and practicing values. For a cultural change of this magnitude the government really needs to invest in providing higher education institutions the programmes and the further guidance to truly make UK campuses safer spaces.
This isn’t the end, its the start of a lot of important work — but let me take this moment to say — Good riddance to the Zellick Report!
I’d like to thank all the student activists and non-student campaigners who have worked towards this moment. Turns out it was all worth it. :)