I am greatly concerned by the issues of sexual harrassment and bullying that have emerged in respect of both staff and students within our higher education institutions. 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 unwanted and unacceptable behaviours, which act as barriers to their safety and their active participation in college life.
In October 2020, I wrote to the Chair of the UCD Governing Authority on the communications that I received from some staff members and former students of the university, so that these might inform the oversight by the Governing Authority of the important work underway in UCD to eliminate sexual harassment and bullying, and improve the environment for students and staff. I believe that these perspectives should be given appropriate consideration by the university, with a view to ensuring an effective and inclusive process in the revision of its bullying, harassment and sexual harassment policies and procedures.
In August 2020 I wrote to the Presidents of all publicly funded higher education institutions requesting that they develop and publish, by February 2021, specific institutional action plans on tackling sexual violence and harassment. These action plans will involve the implementation of systems that record the number of incidents of bullying, intimidation or harassment including sexual harassment. The Higher Education Authority (HEA) has oversight of the Framework for Consent in HEIs, and these statistics will be reported annually to the HEA once the action plans in each institution are in place.
I have also requested that a survey be undertaken on harassment, sexual harassment and bullying of both staff and students in the higher education institutions. The planning of this survey has commenced, and the HEA is consulting with the Irish Universities Association and the Technological Higher Education Association in this regard.
I am committed to ensuring a safe and respectful environment for all staff and students in our Higher Education Institutions, and the steps I am undertaking, I believe, will contribute significantly to the realisation of this objective.