Ireland, students and sexual consent

When you’re buried inside the detail of England’s higher education system, it’s easy to miss how bureaucratic it is - and how slow it is to respond to demands for change.

Over in the Republic of Ireland, in October 2018 Mary Mitchell O’Connor, the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, convened a stakeholder workshop on consent and tackling sexual violence in Irish higher education institutions. She noted that:

sexual harassment and assault are experiences too common for many of our third level students.”

Following the event, she asked the expert panel participants to prepare a framework for institutions and for the sector as a whole. She asked it be readily implementable by all institutions, ideally for the next academic year. And she asked the group to consider how initiatives undertaken by HEIs might be monitored and evaluated for their short-term and long-term impact.

That framework was published a few months later, considers standards around processes and culture for handling allegations of misconduct and has a really helpful focus on prevention and education.

A national survey addressing students’ sexual experiences was published in June. It found that almost three in ten female students had reported non-consensual penetration by incapacitation, force or threat of force during their time at university.

A few days later, Ireland’s new Minister for Further and Higher Education met with the National Women’s Council’s advisory committee on tackling sexual harassment and sexual violence in third-level education:

I didn’t think I lived under a rock but I was stunned by its findings.”

Last week the Irish government announced extra student wellbeing funding of €5 million, and one of the aims of the money is to fast-track the implementation of that “Framework for Consent in Higher Education Institutes”.

A system of reporting on each university’s implementation of the framework will be in place imminently – via annual funding compact discussions between universities and the Higher Education Authority (HEA).

In England, the Office for Students’ consultation on harassment and sexual misconduct in higher education has been indefinitely paused.

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