Professional boundaries and staff sexual misconduct in higher education

  • Bull, Anna (PI)

Project Details


NUS Women’s Campaign, in partnership with the 1752 Group, has launched an exciting new piece of research into staff-student sexual misconduct.

The issue

Recently, we have seen a wave of high profile media reports of staff misconduct and abuse of power in higher education institutions, and universities failing to protect their students. Furthermore, it has been found that one-third of UK universities have no policy on staff-student relationships. This has led to calls for the sector to improve their practice in preventing abuses of power and responding to incidents when they occur.

However, there is a lack of research and data in this area which inhibits change – the most recent UK research is from the 1990s. While the Association of American Universities and Universities Australia have both included staff sexual misconduct in their recent reports, no equivalent study has been carried out in the UK.

The research
This new research will fill this gap. There is a survey, now open, for all current students and ex-students who have experienced sexual misconduct. It will ask students whether they have ever experienced or witnessed sexual misconduct from higher education staff, and their experience of reporting these behaviours to their institution. It will also scope what kinds of behaviours from staff are appropriate, and what behaviours students find uncomfortable.

We are also holding focus groups which will explore professional boundaries between staff and students, by examining the types of behaviours students are comfortable with. We’re holding groups of women, LGBT+, Black, disabled, postgraduate and specialist music and drama institution students.

These focus groups are designed to capture the intersections of students’ experiences. We know that students with different identities experience university life differently, and evidence suggests that women, LGBT+, disabled and Black students may face particular harassment on the basis of these oppressions, and are at greater risk of harassment. For postgraduate students, and music and art students, the issue of staff-student sexual misconduct has also particularly been noted as a concern, due to the nature of the supervisory relationship, close proximity and amount of time spent between students and staff.

This research is the result of a collaboration between Women’s Campaign and The 1752 Group, a non-profit research and lobby organisation, who specialise on issues of sexual misconduct and harassment by university staff on campuses. The results and research report will be publically available from February 2018. If you’d like more information, please email
Short titleStaff sexual misconduct
Effective start/end date1/03/1728/02/18


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