Credit: AJ Duncan

Universities UK publishes new guidance discouraging student-staff relationships

By Jodie Leith

The Glasgow Guardian understands that in the last five years there have been 10 formally declared student-staff relationships at the University of Glasgow.

Universities UK (UUK) has released a set of measures for universities to confront staff-to-student sexual misconduct and create a “safe and inclusive environment for both students and staff”. The report urges universities to “strongly discourage” close personal relationships between staff and students and “bar the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) or confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements in sexual misconduct and harassment causes”. Additional steps recommend universities hold clear and understandable policies regarding staff-to-student sexual misconduct and encourage the report of concerns. Currently, the only UK University which completely prohibits student-staff relationships is University College London. 

Staff-to-student relationships at the University of Glasgow are currently permitted granted they are formally declared. Information obtained by The Glasgow Guardian via a Freedom of Information Request (FOI) found that there has been a total of 10 formally declared “personal relationships” at the University of Glasgow between staff and students in the past five years, with the majority being registered under the Social Sciences college. Six staff/student relationships were declared by lecturers and two by professors, with all ten student statuses registered at postgraduate level. The University of Glasgow stated that no complaints had been made against members of staff regarding a relationship with a student in the last five years and no members of staff have been dismissed following a sexual harassment claim at the University. 

The call for further amendments to staff-student relationship policies follows increased controversies surrounding the dismissal of sexual harassment reports at British universities, highlighted by Al Jazeera’s two year “Degrees of Abuse” investigation into the failures of several institutions in protecting students. In 2020, part of the investigation by Al Jazeera found that Dr. Ian Shaw, a former geography lecturer at the University of Glasgow, had been accused of sexual misconduct by six women including colleagues and students. Four registered complaints were separately dismissed by Glasgow University, leading to further accusations of failing to protect students. Dr. Ian Shaw denied all allegations.

Student-led initiatives demanding the alteration of university policy to better protect students have also increased. A symposium held in February 2022 by students at the University of Oxford, titled “Silence will not protect us”, produced a series of demands, including the total prohibition of intimate staff/student relationships, the introduction of annual publication of the number of sexual misconduct complaints across the University, and the ban of NDAs and confidentiality clauses for victims. 

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