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OFS statement of expectations: Durham University Response

On 19 April 2021 the Office for Students (“OfS”) published a statement of expectations for preventing and addressing harassment and sexual misconduct affecting students in higher education, noting their determination to do all they can to help ensure that students feel safe and supported during their time in higher education – that meaningful support is provided to students when they need it, and that all incidents are dealt with effectively and sensitively.

The 7 expectations are set out below:

  • Higher education providers should clearly communicate, and embed across the whole organisation, their approach to preventing and responding to all forms of harassment and sexual misconduct affecting students.
  • Governing bodies should ensure that the provider’s approach to harassment and sexual misconduct is adequate and effective.
  • Higher education providers should appropriately engage with students to develop and evaluate systems, policies and processes to address harassment and sexual misconduct.
  • Higher education providers should implement adequate and effective staff and student training with the purpose of raising awareness of, and preventing, harassment and sexual misconduct.
  • Higher education providers should have adequate and effective policies and processes in place for all students to report and disclose incidents of harassment and sexual misconduct.
  • Higher education providers should have a fair, clear and accessible approach to taking action in response to reports and disclosures.
  • Higher education providers should ensure that students involved in an investigatory process have access to appropriate and effective support.

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At Durham University we are committed to providing a safe, stimulating and inclusive environment for our staff and students, including high quality student support as part of our Wider Student Experience strategy. This intention is clearly stated in one of our three equality objectives, to "embed a culture of respect and inclusivity: to ensure a learning, teaching and research environment which is accessible, inclusive and respectful where all staff and students have the support and opportunities to be the best that they can be".

As such, whilst we appreciate that the OfS statement of expectations is framed in a way that rightly focusses attention on issues that pertain to our students, we recognise the inter-connectedness of our staff and students and that we are one community, working and studying together. This report therefore brings together in one place all the efforts we are making to create a safe and welcoming environment, and how we work with, and in support of, colleagues and students alike to embed effective approaches to deliver cultural and behavioural change. In the table below we provide an overview of our approach and detail about the actions we are taking as a University as well as mapping those against the standards articulated by the OfS and the 7 expectations.

Standard and overview


DU actions

Minimise potential barriers to reporting and disclosing instances of harassment and sexual misconduct


At DU our efforts are on building confidence to disclose and/or report, which requires trust in the reporting processes and how issues will be handled, and awareness-raising of the available routes to raise concerns. We invest in a significant amount of training for staff and students alike.

1, 3, 4, 5

  • The University has a Sexual Misconduct and Violence Policy that clearly explains different forms of sexual violence, provides information on what will happen if someone reports to the police or University and the potential outcomes following a University investigation
  • The University has a Sexual Misconduct and Violence: Prevention & Response webpage which provides information on reporting and support options
  • Sexual misconduct and violence (SMV) training programmes are provided for students[1] which include compulsory training for new starters, peer-facilitated active bystander training and consent workshops, and training for student leaders on responding to disclosures. These courses aim to build positive behaviours, consent culture and active bystander skills
  • Sexual misconduct and violence (SMV) training programmes are provided for staff[2] and are intended to reduce barriers to disclosure in departments and increase confidence and the ability to respond to disclosures and signpost to reporting and support options in a non-directive and non-judgmental manner
  • Student Union Welfare Training provides Welfare Officers with yearly training on how to respond to disclosures of SMV and run campaigns around consent
  • SMV Annual Trend Monitoring provides a summary of trends and is used to shape the University’s approach to preventing and responding to SMV, including identifying and addressing barriers to reporting. This is reported to senior leadership from University Executive Committee, Audit & Risk Committee and Council as well as being made public on the website so the University is transparent in how it is addressing SMV
  • There are multiple pathways to disclose and/or make a report to the University including in-person to staff in Student Support offices in Colleges, submitting a SMV Reporting Form to the Student Conduct Office directly, or using the online Report + Support platform
  • The Report and Support (R+S) tool is a centralised online platform for reporting incidents of unwanted behaviour designed to increase access to reporting and support infrastructure
  • Pincident: online anonymous reporting tool that geographically maps reports of harassment, violence, assault and discrimination. This tool is managed by the Student Union and an annual report is produced which is used to inform prevention and support work. This tool records why the individual chose to report anonymously which helps the University understand barriers to named reporting
  • Findings from R+S trend monitoring and Pincident are used to identify barriers to reporting and design targeted interventions to minimise these barriers, including awareness-raising campaigns and training
  • Advice Service: independent service from the Student Union with advisors who understand university policies and procedures and can assist students with making reports. SU staff also have access to the DU staff SMV training programme
  • Further to the Student Union motion (2021) on Supporting Student Sex Workers around removing barriers for student sex workers to access support, DU is organising training through an external organisation on Student Sex Work Level 1 and Student Sex Work Disclosure Training Level 2. DU is also considering a Student Sex Work Toolkit to help signpost support options and give guidance to staff on disclosure responses
  • Student Associations build communities and provide support for students of different identity groups and interests, working to enhance their sense of belonging and reduce barriers to reporting
  • Insights from gender equality and race equality research and consultation processes are used to identify barriers to reporting and design systemic change actions to tackle these
  • HR have introduced a simplified on-line grievance form to reduce complexity and encourage colleagues to be forthcoming
  • There is a team of trained Business Partners/Advisers to discuss reports and concerns with employees and offer advice on the appropriate way forward
  • The staff Grievance Procedure is currently under review (2021) to make it simpler and more accessible
  • An expansion of the Bullying and Harassment Network is planned, to increase the number of advisors to staff and students who can signpost to reporting processes and support

Ensure that investigatory procedures are fair and independent


We adopt a system-wide approach which involves the creation of a robust policy and procedure framework (which is regularly reviewed and updated) as well as appropriate, trained and independent investigators.

2, 5, 6, 7

  • Training sessions on Student Complaint​ Policies and Procedures for staff are run throughout the year and available for all staff to attend
  • Student Conduct Office has two full-time permanent Senior Investigating Officers who conduct trauma-informed investigations into reports made under the Sexual Misconduct and Violence Policy
  • Student Conduct Office has a pool of trained volunteer investigators who investigate complaints and unwanted behaviour
  • Student Conduct Office has two full-time permanent specialist case managers to manage any cases of SMV reported to the police and/or University, providing risk assessments, guidance on support, and ensuring students are kept up to date on their cases. Outcomes (including sanctions where relevant) of complaints and reports are shared with both the Reporting Party and the Responding Party
  • Non-academic misconduct case outcomes are publicly shared in an anonymised form
  • Policies are regularly reviewed, such as the 2021 review of the Bullying and Harassment Policy for students, to ensure that processes and procedures are transparent and fair. Student representatives are engaged in reviews of the SMV policy, and feedback is also sought from students via the Student Conduct Office
  • Management Initiated Investigations are available, where appropriate, based on investigation in a particular area of the University rather than an individual reporting party raising a formal grievance
  • Investigating Managers are independent and specifically trained, they have no connection to the reports that they investigate, and their level of seniority and gender is carefully selected so as to be appropriate for each case
  • External investigators are used where appropriate in Respect at Work cases to ensure fair and independent investigations
  • Support is provided to both the Reporting Party/Complainant and the Responding Party/Respondent during and after investigations.
  • Options to request a review or appeal the outcomes of investigation and/or disciplinary processes are made available
  • Students are signposted to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator

Ensure all students involved receive appropriate support


The provision of appropriate support at DU involves collaboration across the University and partnership working with third party organisations, as well as robust training for staff and students as well as an effective Counselling Service.

3, 4, 5, 6, 7

  • Sexual misconduct and violence (SMV) training programmes for students[3] and staff[4] which build skills on responding to disclosures and, for staff, offering support
  • Collaboration with partner organisations such as the Rape & Sexual Abuse Counselling Centre, the Sexual Assault Referral Centre, Durham Constabulary in order to ensure care pathways are available.
  • College Support Staff in all colleges are trained to respond to distressed students, receive disclosures, and signpost to further support
  • The Sexual Misconduct and Violence Operations Group, which has representatives from across the University and Students’ Union, meets monthly to consider strategic issues relating to sexual misconduct and violence; it supports work on developing targeted support for different student groups and intersecting identities based on evidence-informed best practice
  • The University has a full-time permanent Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Manager responsible for case management, institution-wide student support, policy development, and education and training for students and staff in the areas of prevention and response - we were the first university in the UK to appoint such a full-time role
  • Insights from gender equality and race equality research and consultation processes are used to design systemic change actions to expand support for students
  • The Counselling Service receive regular updates from SMV team on any policy changes and receive annual updates from the R+S team on reporting trends
  • Senior Counsellor attends Initial Review Meetings to provide advice on support for reporting and responding parties and the Counselling service provides targeted individual support for reporting and responding parties
  • The Counselling Service works closely with the Rape & Sexual Abuse Counselling Centre to provide specialist support for the Reporting Party
  • The University funds some specialist counselling provided by the Rape & Sexual Abuse Counselling Centre within the Counselling Service for students and staff of all genders subjected to sexual violence and domestic abuse

Clearly set out behavioural expectations for all students.



Before our students even join us, we share information about behavioural expectations and we continue to reinforce those messages by requiring them to complete training, by embedding messaging in induction sessions, by running campaigns in colleges and by requiring them to sign up to a pledge.


1, 3, 4, 5,

  • Student Union Culture Commission (2021) to explore culture as shaped and experienced by students and identify actions to address negative aspects of this culture
  • Student Union-managed Active Bystander Training is provided to all FREPS[5] before each new academic year and then on request, to educate students on understanding sexual misconduct and violence and the concept of bystander intervention, this is available to all students but specifically recommended for students in leadership roles, welfare positions and / or students working in bar-based roles
  • Student Union-supported Student Group Campaigns run by student groups and associations that campaign around consent and tackling sexual misconduct and violence e.g. Womxn’s Association, ItsNotOKDurham
  • Annual College-run campaigns on inclusive and respectful behaviours and how to seek support should a negative experience occur
  • All Durham University applicants receive pre-arrival information relating to the University’s values and expected behaviours
  • All students are required to complete the online Consent Matters module either pre-arrival or at the outset of their course
  • Colleges provide core information and awareness-raising induction sessions on what constitutes respect/positive behaviour at Durham University, the University’s expectations of students and staff, the University’s response to any unacceptable behaviour, and the support process available to any students disclosing incidents of unwanted behaviour
  • A Student Pledge that all incoming students are required to ‘sign up’ to, this outlines the values of the University and expected behaviours; breaches of expectations can lead to conduct cases, in appropriate cases, and the outcomes of those are published to provide clarity not just of expectations but around consequences in the event of failure to meet those expectations
  • A Code of Conduct for the University is under consideration which would serve as a consistent behavioural standard for all colleagues
  • Durham is participating in the Santander Universities Tackling Racial Harassment in Higher Education programme, beginning September 2021, which will provide training and resources for staff and students to engage in anti-racism
  • Non-academic misconduct case outcomes are publicly shared in an anonymised form to demonstrate that policies are used, and behaviour expectations are upheld, for the safety of the University community. This also acts as a preventative measure


[1] Core training: Consent Matters: Boundaries, Respect, and Positive Intervention; SMV Induction Awareness Talks (Core Messages); Active Bystander Course Durham. Optional: Consent Workshop; Consent Workshop Train the Trainer, Responding to Disclosures of Sexual Violence for Student Leaders.

[2] Staff Training includes: SMV: Awareness & Disclosure Training (Level 1), SMV: Disclosure & Support Workshop (Level 2), SMV: Domestic Abuse & Stalking Awareness & Disclosure Training, and an online course – Responding to Disclosures of Sexual Violence.

[3] Core training: Consent Workshop Train the Trainer; Responding to Disclosures of Sexual Violence as a Student Leader.

[4] SMV: Policy Briefing; SMV: Awareness and Disclosure Training (Level 1); SMV: Disclosure and Support Training (Level 2); SMV: Domestic Abuse and Stalking Awareness & Disclosure Training; SMV: Trauma-informed Investigation, Adjudication and Sanctioning Training; SMV: Responding to Disclosures of Sexual Violence.

[5] FREPS are Freshers’ representatives who organise events for Induction Week and support new students to DU with addressing any questions they may have.

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