Session highlights

Whilst there is growing evidence of sexual and gender-based violence in higher education setting there has historically been little recognition of its negative impact on predominantly women students and staff and the role the university has in prevention. Historically there has been a deficit in responsibility for ensuring students are safe in their place of study.” Kate Joyce, Director for Higher Education and Science, British Council

  • Violence against women and girls is the most prevalent human rights abuse worldwide and gender equality cannot be achieved without ending it: so why hasn’t there been a focus on it in higher education? The question was asked by Dr Helen Mott, a research consultant who wrote an influential report Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in the UK for the British Council.
  • Amy Norton, head of inequality, diversity and inclusion at the Office for Students (OfS), the higher education regulator in England, said response to concern about sexual and gender-based violence has been patchy and uneven among universities. As a result it has issued a statement of expectations containing practical advice on prevention, protection and support that universities are strongly advised to take account of by the start of the new academic year in September.
  • Sexual and gender-based violence is a global crisis and research suggests that international students and researchers are most at risk. One study of female undergraduates abroad found over a third had been subjected to some type of unwanted sexual experience and one in 20 had experienced an attempted or completed sexual assault.
  • Dr Adrija Dey warned against seeing sexual and gender-based violence as a global south problem. “The global north has a lot to learn by what has been achieved by activists, and organisations in the global south,” said Dr Dey, lecturer in digital media at the University of Sussex, UK.  For example, India issued guidelines way back in 1997 making it mandatory for institutions, including universities, to put in place measures to prevent and address it.  One result has been committees of student and union representatives plus an independent, external member to give women the courage to speak out and to support them. 

Session summary

Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is a global phenomenon, disproportionately affecting women and sexual and gender minorities, and is manifested worldwide including in the family, public spaces, workspaces, public spaces and our education institutions.

While there is growing evidence of SGBV in higher education settings, there has historically been little recognition of the negative impacts on predominantly women students and staff of the role that the university has in prevention and response. Furthermore, there has been a deficit in accountability of higher education institutions for ensuring that students are safe in places of study.  The opportunity to challenge the persistent gender norms and undervaluing of women and shape a more gender equitable future has, therefore, also been largely missed.

The #MeToo movement kickstarted a wider societal conversation on the pervasiveness of sexual and gender-based violence which has been reflected within higher education. Such initiatives are being driven worldwide, often by students, and include a report from the UK’s National Union of Students evidencing the high level of acceptance of sexual harassment and assault of women in UK universities.

Within this context, this panel will explore how the sector and higher education institutions are stepping up their approach to addressing SGBV.  What are the most effective interventions?  What impact is this having on staff and students?  What more do universities need to do? We will hear a range of perspectives including evidence from an upcoming British Council report that demonstrates the global nature of this issue as well as highlighting some of the initiatives and responses. We aim to draw out lessons on how the sector can work collectively ensure that our universities and our wider society are equally safe.


  • Chair: Kate Joyce, Director for Higher Education and Science, British Council 
  • Presenter: Dr Helen Mott, Research Consultant, Helen Mott Consultancy, UK
  • Prof. Ramneek Ahluwalia, CEO, Higher Health, South Africa 
  • Dr Adrija Dey, Lecturer in Digital Media, University of Sussex and Director of International Knowledge Exchange, The 1752 Group, UK
  • Amy Norton, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Office for Students, UK