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The government's announcement of a major review of the National Student Survey signals a worrying shift in the HE regulatory landscape, warns Jon Scott, higher education consultant and former Pro Vice-Chancellor (student experience) at the University of Leicester.
Statements from ministers this week have made it clear that higher education in England is facing significant reforms, re-setting its focus towards helping to plug the UK's skills gaps and rebuilding the economy. Fariba Soetan, Policy Lead for Research and Innovation at the National Centre for Universities and Business, argues that the proposed changes bring a welcome focus on graduate outcomes and supporting the careers of young people.
Business Secretary Sajid Javid has called on Universities UK to set up a task force to help reduce violence against women on campus.
Working with the higher education sector and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the task force will develop a code of practice to bring about cultural change, make existing complaints systems work more effectively, and improve engagement with crime prevention officers.
In a letter to Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, which meets at the University of Surrey for its annual conference this week, the Business Secretary sets out the remit of the task force, which will include:
The task force will be convened this term and will complete its work over the next 12 months.
The move follows increasing concern over cases of sexual harassment and violence against women on campus, which some have suggested has grown alongside a more prominent "lad's culture".
In an interview with the Sunday Times, Mr Javid said he had not ruled out the possibility of introducing legislation to tackle the problem.
In a statement at the weekend, he added: "“Nobody should be put off going to University because of fears about their safety. If my children choose that path, I would expect my daughter to be as safe as my son on any campus in this country. This taskforce will ensure that universities have a plan to stamp out violence against women and provide a safe environment for all their students.
“We do not tolerate this behaviour in any part of society and I’m not prepared to let it take place on university campuses unchecked.”
Universities minister Jo Johnson, who will be addressing the UUK conference on Wednesday, commented: "Universities already take their responsibilities for the safety of all students incredibly seriously. They have clear legal duties through the Equalities Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty. This task force will make sure that the universities are doing all they can to meet their legal obligations and, will see where they can go further.”
In a blog, UUK chief executive Nicola Dandridge said UUK was already consulting with institutions to see what more could be done and to share best practice.
"While this is a challenging area, I am acutely aware, and reassured, that universities across the land are taking a proactive role in working out solutions and tackling the issues, often working in partnership with each other," she said.
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