Last month, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris welcomed the publication by higher education institutions of their Actions Plans aimed at ending sexual violence and harassment. 

The Action Plans were requested by Harris last year and will be available for staff and students to access online. Minister Harris said “Addressing sexual violence is a priority for me and all those in the third level sector. We must be leaders in this field.”

The Action Plans were submitted to the HEA’s Centre of Excellence for Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion, which controls the Framework for Consent published on institutional websites. This Framework, which was launched in April 2019, aims to ensure the creation of an institutional campus culture that is safe, respectful, and supportive.

The Action Plans concentrate on the fifteen key outcomes outlined in the Framework, which are grouped into four thematic areas that focus on Institutional Culture, Institutional Processes, Institutional Policies, and Targeted Initiatives. Third-level institutions will be required to report on progress in implementing this Framework to the Higher Education Authority each year.

Last April, a national survey into staff and student experiences of sexual violence and sexual harassment in colleges was conducted by the HEA. There were approximately 7,901 responses recorded from students and 3,516 from staff. Survey findings are currently being studied by the HEA and will be published in the coming months. Minister Harris stated that these findings will be “invaluable in creating a robust evidence base to inform further policy decisions” in the area of sexual violence and harassment in higher education. 

Minister Harris has also written to the Presidents of the higher education institutions encouraging them to consider implementing a Domestic Violence Leave policy to cover all staff. NUIG is the first institution to introduce this policy, which was launched by Minister Harris on 26th May 2021. The purpose of this policy is to provide a period of paid time away from work for staff members who have suffered or are suffering from domestic violence or abuse. This leave will enable the staff member to seek assistance in a structured and supported environment. 

Minister Harris explained that: “Our institutions have a duty of care to their staff and this policy builds on, and complements, the work that is ongoing across our higher education system to tackle sexual violence and harassment…”

In 2020 several members of staff at UCD came forward alleging that the university did not provide adequate support to victims of sexual harassment or assault and that reform is needed in the area. This included Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, who was harassed by a colleague at UCD for two years after making authorities aware of the issue. 

Emma Hanrahan – Deputy News Editor

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