University Colleges Australia (UCA), the peak body representing more than 70 leaders of colleges and halls of residence around Australia, acknowledges the release of the National Student Safety Survey (NSSS) report.
We are deeply sorry to each student whose right to safety and respect on campus has been undermined, and are committed to addressing all problems identified by the NSSS.
The report shows that Australian universities, colleges, and residences must sustain efforts to reduce the prevalence of sexual misconduct on campus, improve support and reporting channels, and ensure that survivors are aware of these channels.
The members of UCA are aligned in their view that one instance of sexual misconduct is one too many, and that there is no room for complacency. Sexual violence cannot be tolerated and as a sector we must work together to ensure the safety and well-being of students.
Over the coming months, UCA will be developing policy recommendations and research-based training modules in response to the NSSS findings. We will be providing these recommendations and modules to college leaders with the intention of supporting them to:
Reduce incidents of misconduct in residential settings, particularly settings in which alcohol is consumed;
Reduce adverse experiences of female, transgender and non-binary students, who are disproportionately affected by sexual harassment and sexual assault; and
Increase student knowledge of where to seek support or assistance for harassment and assault.
The issues at hand are complex and demand a whole-of-society response. For this reason, we will also be working with secondary school leaders to co-develop long-term respectful relationships programs. These integrated programs will commence at the earliest stages of students’ education and continue seamlessly into tertiary life, reflecting the need for sustained – not transient – education and conversation.
One of the important questions for institutions engaged in ongoing cultural evolution is whether progress has been made. While it is not possible to directly compare the results from the 2016 National University Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment and the NSSS, there may be some cause for optimism. The report points to “a somewhat lower prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the 12 months preceding the survey as compared to prevalence in the 2016 calendar year”. UCA is mindful, however, that the COVID-19 context and changes to the wording of the survey limit the probity of this observation. Having access to longitudinal data in the future will enable university colleges to assess the efficacy of measures put in place.
College leaders are working tirelessly to make our residential settings safer. UCA commends the many colleges who have proactively engaged in third-party review processes, incorporated best-practice reporting mechanisms, and worked hard to address negative cultures. We are confident that this work will yield tangible improvements to student safety in residential settings.
However, our principal concern today is the work that is left to do. We understand that cultural change takes time, but must maintain a strong sense of urgency as we work with our communities to build safer campuses.