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Evaluating the progress made on tackling hate crime and sexual harassment on campus

12 Jun 2019 | Helen Baird Helen Baird outlines how the Final Report from the Evaluation of Safeguarding Students Catalyst Fund Projects will help the higher education sector continue to tackle issues of sexual misconduct, hate crime and harassment affecting students.

Catalyst funding from the Office for Students is aimed at promoting safeguarding for students in higher education. The Catalyst Fund allocated £4.4million in one-to-one match funding to help higher education institutions (HEIs) with 108 one-year projects designed to keep students safe from sexual misconduct, hate crime and online harassment.

Advance HE is the independent evaluator of the initiative. The purpose of the report is to inform sector and institutional practice with the findings from what we have learned so far about ‘what works’ in safeguarding students. It contains many examples from what we have learned in our research with providers so far in student safeguarding practice. This is intended to help support and enable learning, exchange and dissemination of innovative and good practice in safeguarding students from and between the various Catalyst projects.

The focus of the Final Summative Evaluation Report is on the critical success factors, emerging outcomes and lessons learned from across 108 projects undertaken by higher education (HE) providers tackling sexual misconduct, hate crime and harassment during the period 2017-19.

Some of the key findings from the research for the evaluation are set out below:

  • The Catalyst funding built on and helped maintain the momentum created by the Universities UK Taskforce’s Changing the Culture report in 2016. The wider media and societal interest in challenging sexual misconduct across multiple sectors has also been a significant part of the context and supported the impetus for change.
  • Moreover, the scale of the funding across the 108 projects in the English HE sector meant that ‘there’s a huge safety in numbers’ for providers and their leaders to feel more confident in openly tackling these issues (given abiding concerns over potential reputational risks from doing so).
  • This safeguarding work is becoming embedded as part of ‘business as usual’ within some, though not all, providers, and in different ways. A direct impact of the funding however was in enabling providers to progress this work more quickly and more comprehensively than would otherwise have been the case (this is clearly demonstrated by analysis of Universities UK’s data which shows the positive impact of Catalyst funding on progress in safeguarding compared with non-funded English HE providers ).

Overall, this evaluation has shown that, although there are still many issues to be resolved, tolerance for sexual misconduct has decreased within the HE sector in recent years through awareness raising, and correspondingly reporting of incidents by students is now increasing. This is as a result of students’ greater confidence that their provider will respond to their reports and disclosures. This is important early evidence of the culture change called for by the Universities UK Taskforce beginning to take place within the sector. Driving up reporting rates is essential to create a ‘new norm of reporting’, which may contribute to prevention too.

Although the HE sector’s work in addressing hate crime / incidents is at an earlier stage than that of sexual misconduct and is less embedded, there is growing   awareness of these issues affecting students. However, much more work is needed across and by HE providers in tackling hate crime / incidents affecting students (across and at the intersections of all types of hate crime). To support this, there is a need for better understanding of the nature of hate crimes / incidents affecting students; and for according these a higher priority relative to other safeguarding work taking place in the sector. Similarly, there are relatively low levels of understanding about what constitutes harassment taking place online. Indeed, online harassment appears to have become 'normalised' among students and there may also be significant under-reporting of incidents affecting students which take place online.

To realise the full potential (and the sustainability) of safeguarding initiatives to tackle sexual misconduct, hate crime and harassment, there is a clear need for continued senior leadership support (and governance oversight) of this area, both within HE providers and at sector level. In addition to the moral case for action, increasingly there are signs that there are greater risks to inaction than action for HE providers in tackling these issues.  

There is much more detail available in the Final Summative Evaluation Report and learning points for providers (including those just embarking on safeguarding initiatives), and in two earlier Thematic Analysis reports covering each of the two cohorts of projects.

The Advance HE team would like to thank all those who have contributed their time and ideas to inform the research for this evaluation, especially all the Catalyst project team members and other leaders and staff at the funded higher education providers, as well as the students and external expert partner organisations engaged in the projects.


Helen Baird led the independent Evaluation of Safeguarding Students Catalyst Fund Projects over the past 18 months and is lead author of the Final Summative Evaluation ReportShe also led the study for Universities UK during 2017 and authored the report Changing the culture: One year on


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