Significant progress has been made regarding the Framework for Consent in Higher Education, since it was first launched in 2019. The Framework aims to ensure the creation of an institutional campus culture which is safe, respectful and supportive.
In August 2020, I wrote to all the Presidents of the publicly funded higher education institutions, with a view to strengthening institutional action in the area of consent. Institutions were requested to produce individual action plans on tackling sexual violence and harassment and to submit these to the HEA Centre of Excellence for Gender Equality, whose responsibilities have been expanded to cover all areas of equality, diversity and inclusion, as well as oversight of the implementation of the Framework for Consent in HEIs.
As part of monitoring requirements moving forward, the HEA requires that institutions, in respect of both staff and students, report progress annually on implementation of the Framework for Consent.
My Department has provided support for a number of consent awareness raising and training initiatives in the HEIs, including the:
- NUIG Active Consent Programme
- UCC Bystander Training
- Speak Out report and support online platform
- The ESHTE Toolkit and It Stops Now Campaign led by the NWCI in conjunction with USI.
My Department is partnering with the Department of Justice and the NUIG Active Consent programme to support the development of an online hub that will provide, for the first time, an integrated, publicly available resource on sexual consent awareness and learning, which will be an important resource for our further and higher education institutions and the wider community.
The IUA has published guidelines entitled 'Guidelines for Universities on How to Respond to Alleged Staff or Student of University Related Sexual Misconduct' , which are available to assist HEIs in this area.
THEA launched their PROPEL Report (Promoting Consent and Preventing Sexual Violence), in March 2021, with funding from my Department. The PROPEL report details key components and options for inclusion in institutional action plans, outline of best practice and guidelines for emerging policies and procedures in this area and a series of conclusions and recommendations.
With regard to the recently published surveys of student and staff experiences of sexual violence and harassment in higher education, I want to take this opportunity to thank students and staff across the country who took the time to engage with this survey and share their experiences with us. A total of 11,417 responses were analysed (7,901 students and 3,516 staff) and inform the findings.
The survey findings point to some positive developments in the higher education institutions that can be built upon in areas such as awareness raising and education. But there are also some deeply troubling findings, such as the levels of sexual harassment experienced by staff and students that responded to the survey and particularly the female students that reported that they had experienced sexual violence.
My Department will now work with the Centre of Excellence for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the HEA, the higher education sector and the HEA Advisory Group on Ending Sexual Violence and Harassment in Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) to implement the recommendations in these reports.