A website has accrued over 15,000 anonymous testimonies of sexual harassment, assault, and other accounts of deeply entrenched misogyny at universities across the UK. Naturally, this has caused students and staff to question whether enough is being done to tackle rape culture on campuses. Meanwhile, the government has announced that students may return to campuses from the 17 May, and the Russell Group has issued a “statement of principles” regarding free speech and academic freedom.

NEW ON THE CDBU BLOG!

Academic freedom is in crisis; free speech is not – Liz Morrish, Independent Scholar

The most severe cuts to UK research funding in a generation, with far reaching consequences – Elena Isayev, University of Exeter.

CDBU IN THE NEWS

What is the Council for the Defence of British Universities? – University Business profile


Elite UK universities named on Everyone’s Invited ‘rape culture’ website – Sky News, 15/04/21

More than 80 UK universities have been named on a website where students have been posting about sexual harassment, abuse, misogyny and assault. Some are mentioned dozens of times on the Everyone’s Invited site, including around 50 mentions each for elite universities such as Oxford, Exeter and University College London. The site has previously highlighted a so-called “rape culture” in schools and more higher education students are now speaking up. Seventeen UK universities have more than five mentions and 15 of these are Russell Group universities.

Universities ignoring rape culture warnings, say campaigners – The Guardian, 15/04/21

Universities have ignored repeated warnings to tackle rape culture on campus, and left themselves exposed to lawsuits and reputational damage, according to lawyers and campaigners. Students who disclosed that they were victims of sexual assault or harassment on campus still faced a postcode lottery on whether they would be given the support they needed and whether action would be taken, said Anna Bull, co-director of the 1752 Group, a UK-based research and lobby organisation working to end sexual misconduct in higher education.

“If you come forward with a disclosure or complaint as a student, the chances are that you probably won’t get sufficiently supported and it won’t be dealt with in the way that you would like. Some universities are putting substantial amounts of resources and expertise into tackling this issue, but they are by far the minority.”

Anna Bull, co-director of the 1752 Group

English universities to be told to work harder to stop sexual misconduct – The Guardian, 16/04/21

Universities in England will be asked to step up their efforts to tackle sexual harassment and violence on campus or face sanctions, amid accusations that they have ignored repeated warnings to tackle rape culture. The higher education regulator, the Office for Students, will publish new guidance next week asking institutions to take responsibility for protecting their students with “robust” reporting procedures and increased mental health support, as well as bystander and consent training for staff and students. In a statement, the OfS said: “We could use our enforcement powers where universities and colleges do not have robust, fair and effective complaints procedures in relation to harassment and sexual misconduct.”

Remaining university students to return to campus – Gov.uk, 13/04/21

All university students who have not yet returned to campus and in-person teaching will be able to do so from 17 May, at the earliest, the Government has confirmed today (Tuesday 13 April). The timing aligns with Step 3 of the Government’s roadmap, where restrictions on social contact and indoor mixing will be further eased, and aims to limit potential public health risks associated with student populations moving across the country. Progression to Step 3 of the roadmap will be dependent on a review of the latest data and the impact of Step 2 on the four key tests. Creative and practical students started returning from the 8 March, with an estimated 49 per cent of students already eligible to return to in-person teaching, subject to decisions by their institutions, and remaining students have received online provision throughout the term.

Universities are allowing students back to campus early on mental health grounds – The Telegraph, 19/04/21

Universities are allowing students back to campus early on mental health grounds, it has emerged.  Some vice-Chancellors have written to undergraduates to highlight the exceptional circumstances in which they are allowed to take up residence at their term-time address. These include “inadequate” study space at home or if their mental health and wellbeing is suffering, according to official guidance. Last week the Government announced that around one million university students will not be allowed to return to campus for another month.

UK universities urge government to be ‘proportionate’ in free speech legislation – The Guardian, 22/04/21

The leading research universities in the UK have urged the government to be “proportionate” in its planned legislation to promote free speech on campus, arguing that existing laws and regulations are sufficient to protect academic freedom. In an intensification of ministers’ culture war agenda, the Queen’s speech to parliament on 11 May will contain measures on the campus free speech, potentially including the creation of a “free speech champion” for England, extending legal requirements on free speech to student unions, and allowing speakers who are “no platformed” to sue for compensation. But the 24 members of the Russell Group are concerned that the measures will add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy on top of existing freedom of expression legislation and requirements under the Prevent anti-radicalisation programme, as well as employment and contract laws protecting staff.

Leading UK universities vow to protect freedom of speech on campus – The Independent, 21/04/21

The Russell Group – which represents 24 top universities, said: “Facilitating an environment where all students and staff are able to inquire, study, and discuss is a responsibility our universities take extremely seriously.” Members work alongside staff and student unions to “defend and maintain freedom of expression on campus” and speaker events on “diverse views on complex issues” happen weekly on campuses across the UK, the statement said. It added: “Our universities provide a wide range of fora where free and frank intellectual exchanges take place and the diverse views of individuals are tolerated, whilst also assuring the safety of students, staff and members of the public.”

“Academic freedom and freedom of speech anchor the commitment of our universities to the open and rigorous contestation of ideas. They are fundamental to our purpose as academic institutions, helping to drive knowledge and discovery in research and education. Freedom of speech extends to all who wish to seek, receive or impart information and ideas of all kinds, and includes the right to protest peacefully.”

RUSSELL GROUP STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES, April 2021

UK universities propose cutting benefits to save pension scheme – Financial Times, 07/04/21

Hundreds of thousands of university sector staff in the UK would see their retirement benefits cut under employer proposals to avert “unaffordable” rises in contributions as the sector struggles with a years-long pensions crisis. Plans outlined on Wednesday by Universities UK, which represents more than 340 higher education sector employers, would see guaranteed pensions for about 200,000 of the 460,000 members become less generous, with higher-earning academics taking the biggest cuts. The measures, presented to members as part of a seven-week consultation, are the response to a recent financial health check that estimated the funding shortfall for the £80bn Universities Superannuation Scheme had risen from £3.6bn to up to £18bn in two years. To plug the hole, USS had said contributions from employers and members would need to increase from the combined current 30.7 per cent of salary to as much as 56 per cent to keep current pensions intact.

University of Liverpool staff vote to strike over job cuts – Liverpool Echo, 12/04/21

Staff at the University of Liverpool have voted overwhelmingly to take strike action over job cuts, a union has announced. The University and College Union (UCU) said that 84% of members who voted supported strike action, with 90% backing action short of a strike, which could involve a marking and assessment boycott. The vote was held in response to plans by the university to cut 47 teaching and research jobs in the faculty of health and life sciences. In February the university wrote to staff and the union to announce the plans to lay off the 47 research staff as part of reorganisation plans known as Project SHAPE. The union has argued that the use of ‘flawed data’ on research and grant income is being used to assess performance and select staff for redundancy.

London universities attack ‘levelling down’ plans to cut funding – The Guardian, 15/04/21

The universities regulator, the Office for Students (OfS), is planning to remove a portion of the state teaching grant that was previously channelled towards institutions in London to reflect the higher costs of delivering education there. But universities in the capital say this could create more inequalities than it addresses, given the scale of deprivation in the city. “The secretary of state for education has decided that in support of the national ‘levelling up’ agenda, and despite the exceptionally high costs of operating in London, the capital’s great universities are to be levelled down,” said Prof Paul Curran, the president of City, University of London. A report by London Higher, which represents 40 universities and colleges in the capital, says the institutions that will be worst affected by the £64m loss in funding are seven already in deficit that would be unable to plug the shortfall by recruiting more international students.

Axeing London weighting cash ‘will push universities into red’ – Times Higher Education, 15/04/21

Several universities in London will be tipped into deficit or pushed further into the red if the Westminster government proceeds with plans to scrap additional funding for institutions and students in the capital, a new report warns. A study conducted by Frontier Economics for London Higher, which represents universities in the city, found that three institutions which had previously reported surpluses would have deficits if London weighting funding was removed. Meanwhile, four institutions’ surpluses would drop to £1 million or less as a result of the policy change, which was proposed by education secretary Gavin Williamson in January. A further seven universities already have deficits and scrapping the London weighting funding “will push them further into the red”, according to the analysis, which used data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency.  

Students applying to university should get places on actual grades, says Ucas – The Guardian, 20/04/21

Students applying to university should be offered places based on their actual results rather than their predicted grades, the universities admissions service will say this week. As part of a long-awaited policy change aimed at making the system fairer, Ucas will give “cautious backing” to a post-qualifications admissions (PQA) system in which students apply to universities before they get their results, as they do now, but will not receive offers until after they know their final grades. The proposed new system would take at least three years to implement, according to Ucas, and the government would need to ensure that schools and colleges have the resources and support in place over the summer holidays to support students decide on their future. The admissions service rejected a more radical proposal to delay both applications and offers until after A-level results as impractical.

Elite universities are falling short on their green promises – Times Higher Education, 19/04/21

With the world’s annual climate conference, COP26, in Glasgow this year, you would expect the UK’s top research-intensive universities to be leading the response to the climate emergency. After all, they can readily draw upon expert advice. They should be showing the way to becoming zero carbon institutions. But ambitious targets drawn up a decade ago for English universities to cut carbon use by 43 per cent by 2020 have mostly been missed. In 2019 it was reported that less than a third of all UK universities were likely to meet this goal. Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency also show that the research-intensive universities of the Russell Group are the sector’s biggest polluters, responsible for more than half the gas and electricity emissions from estates and fleet vehicles in the sector.

Ohio students stage sit-in demanding university cut ties with police – The Independent, 21/04/21

Students at Ohio State staged a sit-in protest and demanded that the university cut ties with Columbus Police in the wake of the killing of Ma’Khia Bryant. The protest took place one day after a police officer shot and killed the 16-year-old girl in the city, just as the verdict in the George Floyd trial was reached. Students staged their Wednesday protest in the Ohio Union before taking to the streets to march. Some carried signs with the victim’s name, along with phrases like “say her name”, while another student had a sign that said, “Being Black shouldn’t be a death sentence.”

New and returning students urged to apply now for student finance – Gov.uk, 22/04/21

In 2020, SLC processed and paid more students than ever before and the next academic year looks set to be another record-breaker. Data published by UCAS showed 42.6 percent of all 18-year-olds had applied for university by the main January deadline, which is up from 39.5 percent on last year. At the Student Loans Company, we have already experienced a significant increase in applications, with applications up by more than 10% on last year. Given the current economic climate, SLC’s role in enabling access to further and higher education has never been more important. It is our responsibility to ensure students have the finance in place to help them achieve their academic aspirations; and, so that students have the best possible start to their course, we want that finance to be in place by the start of the academic year.