Our higher education institutions have a duty of care to their students and staff and a responsibility to foster a campus culture that is clear in the condemnation of unwarranted, unwanted and unacceptable behaviours, which act as barriers to their safety and active participation in college life.
In April 2019, the framework for consent in higher education institutions, called Safe, Respectful, Supportive and Positive — Ending Sexual Violence and Harassment in Irish Higher Education Institutions, was launched by the then Minister of State, Mary Mitchell O'Connor. To assist institutions with implementation of the framework, funding of more than €400,000 has been allocated to a number of initiatives. In addition, the Higher Education Authority has allocated funding of in excess of €500,000 to such areas as consent workshops, the development of the anonymous report and support tool, and the UCC bystander intervention programme. Prior to and since the launch of the framework, institutions would have undertaken activities in this area as part of their student services remit within their overall funding allocations.
In August 2020, in my first letter to presidents of higher educations institutions, I asked them to strengthen institutional action in this area. It is not enough to have a national framework. We need to know what is being done in each college to have a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment and violence. I have asked each of them to put in place an action plan on tackling sexual violence and harassment. I am pleased to say the action plans have been received by the HEA. Institutions must, for the first time, report annually to the HEA on their progress in implementing these frameworks.
In April of this year, I launched the first ever surveys into staff and student experiences of sexual violence and sexual harassment in our higher education institutions. The surveys were conducted by the HEA and sent to all staff and students by the higher education institutions. A report on these surveys should be available to my Department in a number of months.
I want to see our higher education institutions embed the framework for consent into all their policies and procedures. I also want to see the domestic violence leave policy that NUI Galway has introduced come into all our institutions. I have written to all presidents of publicly funded higher education institutions suggesting this.