Addressing Student Misconduct

Revising the student misconduct guidelines for Scotland.

Not a campaign but a project

This isn’t a campaign like the others listed on our website. It’s a project that we’re taking forward with a range of stakeholders. We needed a place online to bring together relevant information and provide updates in a transparent way.

The project is to create a set of Guidance for universities to support the way they respond to incidents of student misconduct. The vast majority of our student community is at university to learn and the vast majority of students are respectful of their fellow students and staff. Unfortunately, in a community of over 200,000 students there will be incidents of student misconduct, some of them potentially criminal in nature. In those circumstances universities have a complex set of statutory and ethical responsibilities to manage, including the safety and duty of care of the student reporting the misconduct as well as parallel responsibilities to the student who has been reported. This can make the process very challenging.

The background to this project

UK universities already have a set of Guidance to help them manage student misconduct which might constitute a criminal offence.

The existing Guidance was developed by Universities UK and Pinsent Masons in 2016 and it served the need at the time. The current Guidance is UK-wide in its scope and it covers all forms of student misconduct, which might also be criminal in nature, from vandalism and theft to serious sexual offences.  Scotland’s universities and their stakeholders have reached the view that it’s appropriate to refresh the Guidelines and develop something that will work specifically for higher education institutions in Scotland and that will reflect Scotland’s different legal and criminal systems and certain different policy contexts.

A review also gives us an opportunity to specifically reflect on what constitutes best practice in the handling of cases of misconduct where trauma could be a factor for the students involved. This might be the case in incidents of gender-based violence and hate incidents. This is an area which has come into sharp and necessary focus since the rise of the #MeToo movement, with much better understanding of the role that trauma plays in these circumstances and how to respond in a trauma-informed way. This project is focused on managing the misconduct, rather than the student wellbeing of a university’s action but in a holistic, institution-wide approach there can and should be complementarity between them.

It’s important to be clear that whilst universities want to fully deliver on their responsibilities to their student community, universities have to remain universities and that means they are very limited in the range of actions they can apply in cases of student misconduct, even where something very serious is judged to have taken place. Universities can have no role in criminal or judicial matters. This is essential so that the criminal process (if & where relevant) is not compromised in any way.

The process we're working to

In early 2019 we held two scoping meetings with a range of stakeholders in the sector and primarily in the community working to tackle gender-based violence. Those sessions helped inform the parameters of the project. The meetings took place in February and April of 2019 and in the interests of transparency and a desire to be open to all stakeholders, we will publish the note of those meetings here.

Note of the first scoping meeting on 27 February 2019.

Note of the second scoping meeting on 24 April 2019

The scoping meetings were an opportunity to review the existing Guidelines, identify key areas for review and for university staff to highlight aspects where more guidance would be useful. Both scoping meetings focused primarily on how the Guidance might better support students and universities when the misconduct is gender-based violence. We’ve acknowledged that is one of the aspects of the existing document that needs the most development.

The existing guidelines address all forms of student misconduct that other students, and the university as a corporate body, might experience. This covers everything from petty vandalism and theft through to hate crime and serious sexual assault. We expect the revised Guidance to follow the same approach but to give much better signposting to additional considerations a university should take when the type of student misconduct under investigation could involve trauma for the reporting student(s).

We spent the summer of 2019 developing the terms of reference and reflecting on other key developments in this space including new reports from Universities UK and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. The Review Group met for the first time on 20 November and the note of that meeting will be published here once it has been approved. The terms of reference and membership will be shared here too in due course.

As well as the Review Group we plan to hold a series of themed sessions to explore some of the main themes of the project, which gives us an opportunity to engage with a wider range of stakeholders. The first of those is taking place on 9 January on the subject of risk management. We’ll finalise our approach to consult with students with relevant lived experience early in the new year. At present, we’re running a desk-based exercise to see what existing research has been already been done with people with lived experience of direct relevance to this project.

Any stakeholders with an interest in this project, or the range of issues that it covers are welcome to get in touch with us at any point.

Further details will be posted on this page.

Key Points:

We’re reviewing the 2016 UK Guidance on student misconduct to better support universities in Scotland.

We’ve consulted with stakeholders in spring 2019 to inform the project’s parameters and are finalising the project plan in June.

The Review Group will start meeting from November 2019 with the aim to conclude for the start of the 2020/21 academic year.

We’ll use this page to provide updates so the project can progress in a transparent and inclusive way.


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