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National Union of Students to investigate sexual harassment by staff at British universities

Students will be questioned as to whether they have ever experienced or witnessed sexual misconduct. Credit: PA

The National Union of students is to investigate sexual harassment in British universities with the first ever survey of staff sexual misconduct in higher education.

Students will be questioned as to whether they have ever experienced or witnessed sexual misconduct from a member of staff while in higher learning, and if they reported incidents to their institution.

Spearheaded by the NUS's Women's Campaign and in partnership with lobby organisation The 1752 Group, researchers will probe professional boundaries, and the types of behaviour students encounter from higher education staff.

"As it currently stands, many institutions are ill-equipped to deal with instances of student-staff harassment or indeed, harassment in general," NUS women's officer Hareem Ghani said.

"A lack of research in the area, combined with a lack of understanding has meant that many universities do not have basic guidelines on this issue.

"There is a still a long way for us to go, but I am proud that the Women's Campaign and The 1752 Group are taking a lead on this pertinent issue.

"For too long, these problems have been at best sidelined and at worst silenced by institutions.

"We need to talk about the open secrets that plague academia, to challenge cultures of entitlement and stop abuses of power wherever they happen."

Noting that research in the US shows one in six female postgraduate students experience sexual harassment or abuse from university staff, Dr Anna Bull, co-founder of The 1752 Group, said: "Universities do not currently have adequate procedures in place to protect students and deal with perpetrators, and students find themselves powerless to do anything about staff who abuse their position."

"At a time when the world is waking up to the ways in which sexual harassment and abuse are endemic across many institutions, it is time for the higher education sector to take this issue seriously,” she added.

"We hope that this research will lead the way towards these much-needed changes."