UCL Bans Close Staff-Student Relationships

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University College London is the first of all Russell Group universities to introduce a ban on close relationships between staff and students. 

The policy, accessible through the university’s website, cites that employees shouldn’t engage in a close relationship with students whom they are directly involved with. One of the purposes of this change is to avoid cases of “sexual misconduct, abuse of power or conflict of interest”. 

Moreover, if a staff member is involved intimately with any student at the same university, he/she has to declare it so the relationship can be examined to see if it will cause a conflict of interest or if it already has. 

Under subsection 5.7, there are several examples of intolerable behaviour towards pupils, such as “physical touching”, “comments […] of a sexual nature” and/or meeting a student in places “without others present”. 

The UCL policy also mentions that staff members can’t engage in a personal relationship with underage students or any individual “at risk”. This refers to someone who needs community care services and therefore “is unable to take care of [or protect] themselves”. 

A defiance of the policy will be taken care of under the institution’s castigating system.

University College London (UCL). Source: BBC/Getty

The University of Leeds’ policy instructs employees to declare if he/she is involved in an intimate relationship with a student. A new Code of conduct last updated in October 2019 takes cases of inappropriate behaviour very seriously and will ensure that all issues are investigated thoroughly and independently. The policy, in addition, requires all staff members to complete a Minerva training course. 

A BBC investigation revealed that over 700 claims of sexually improper behaviour were registered within UK universities during the 2018/19 school year. 

Several students are discouraged to report cases of sexual nature to universities due to the long and stressful procedures. Many also don’t have faith in the institutions solving these issues.

The 1752 Group’s report highlights how the investigation process caused serious consequences on the victim’s “mental and physical health”. It also mentioned how three individuals had to wait up to eight years to conclude the proceeding. 

The 1752 Group is a UK organisation which is actively pursuing to put an end to sexual misconduct in universities. 

Their study also reached the conclusion that staff members who misbehaved multiple times were rarely fired. Furthermore, they said universities are aware of these cases, but they lack “a detailed and robust approach” to solve them. 

BBC News recently found that since 2016 around a third of universities have used Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) to solve student complaints. The broadcaster also sent Freedom of Information requests where almost 100 universities disclosed that around £87m was paid on settlements between 2017 and 2018. 

A BBC interview with Charlotte (fictitious name used for victim) revealed that when she reported being sexually assaulted, she was given £1000 and told to sign a contract that would bound her to not discuss the incident with anyone else without the University’s consent. 

Charlotte said an employee thanked her for not continuing the investigation with the police and later she was warned to not make a fuss otherwise she would be expelled. 

Responding to these allegations, the University of West London released a statement saying that it challenged them and that it provided all the support the student needed. 

Emma Chapman, an astrophysicist, was also in a similar position when she reported being sexually harassed by a man at UCL, as said on Victoria Derbyshire Live. She rejected a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and concluded her legal case two years later. The university no longer uses NDAs to settle reports of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct. It also recognised that in the past it had not used them in a balanced way.

If you or anyone you know have been affected by the issues discussed in this article, information on how to report incidents or recieve help can be found below.

Individuals who suspect, have witnessed, or have experienced inappropriate behaviour by a member of staff can report this, by any means, in one of the following ways:

  • to their Head of School/Service/Executive Dean
  • to their Faculty/Service HR Manager or Head of HR
  • to colleagues in our Equality Policy unit via dignity@leeds.ac.uk
  • to the Student Cases Team studentcases@leeds.ac.uk (if you are a student or PGR)

Advice Support and useful contacts

Campus Security Service – Contact 0113 343 2222 in the event of an emergency on campus.

Police in an emergency, contact 999. For non-emergencies, contact 101.

Human Resources: http://hr.leeds.ac.uk/contact.

Leeds University Union (LUU): Independent advice and support to students (see https://www.luu.org.uk/student-advice/ for further information).

Staff Counselling and Psychological Support Service: Tel: 0113 34 33694. Email staffcounselling@leeds.ac.uk.

Student Counselling and Wellbeing Service: Tel 0113 34 34107. Email: scc@leeds.ac.uk.