Our ProtectED patron, Baroness Henig, was unfortunately unable to attend the ProtectED Evening Reception at the House of Lords at the end of October. Fortunately for us, Lord Kennedy of Southwark kindly stepped in to host the event. We would like to thank Lord Roy Kennedy for supporting us so well at such short notice. He did an amazing job as host, expressing interest in all the subjects discussed during the evening. We very much hope he will be able to join us at future ProtectED events at the House of Lords.
ProtectED Director Andrew Wootton introduced the evening agenda of guest speakers and talked passionately of the creation and purpose of ProtectED; proclaiming that the development of ProtectED would not have been possible without the collaborative effort of a number people, who came together with a shared vision and have become friends in the process. Andrew explained how university departments working together with outside agencies, such as the police, NHS and local authorities, adopting collaborative approaches to achieve a safer and more secure university experience for all students. Andrew and the Co-Directors of ProtectED are looking forward to the next institutions joining as ProtectED Founder Members — 'early adopters' acting proactively to enhance the student experience and "do what is right", during a challenging period of change in the sector.
Trevor Jones, Chair of the Association of University Chief Security Officers (AUCSO) united the room in talking about county lines crimes and how, no matter which university you work for, there will be some links to county lines crimes on your campus. He noted that this problem is o embedded within universities that criminal gangs even have students that enrol in a university with the sole purpose of selling drugs. Such criminal enterprises may also entice students that are struggling with their student debt with the offer of easy money, or just befriend lonely isolated students and draw them in gradually. County lines crime is something that everyone in the room agreed was a pressing concern within the university sector.
After voicing their approval of Trevor’s speech, the audience was treated to a speech by Lisa Banks, Director of Student Services at the University of Central Lancashire — one of our ProtectED Founder Members. Lisa outlined her reasons for supporting ProtectED, explaining that she believes ProtectED will raise student safety and wellbeing up the agenda of every university.
A previous speaker at ProtectED events, as usual Lisa delivered a very uplifting keynote. She spoke of how, looking around her office for inspiration for her speech, she spotted a huge pile of reports that had been published over the last few months from EHRC, UUK, OFS, NUS, and others. These publications covered everything from student initiations to online harassment, and demonstrated the fast-changing nature of the university sector, with institutions facing increasing demands to do more or better across a range of issues.
As Lisa said, “Being a Student Services Director can sometimes be a lonely job. I don’t just mean because we deal with students when they are at their most vulnerable and often have to co-ordinate support with the NHS, Police, and so on. I mean because we can often be a lone voice at that senior table on topics such as mental health, harassment etc. For example, I strongly believe that putting more resources in to Mental Health Teams is only part of the answer to the mental health crisis so widely reported in the Press. We should also be focusing upstream on giving students the skills to become resilient, to understand their responsibilities as members of society who show respect to all members of their community. If we do this upstream, we have less cases of harassment, hate crime, mental health crisis and our students have better lives.”
Lisa explained how ProtectED provides a set of benchmarks that help newly developing teams understand what excellence is and how to make a difference: "In this world we need strong leaders, with a clear and coherent vision."
Next, Georgina Calvert-Lee, barrister and Senior Counsel at law firm McAllister Olivarius, spoke eloquently about the reporting of sexual misconduct student and staff members. She explained that some universities followed outdated and inappropriate processes — treating sexual assault offences in the same way as 'academic misconduct' such as plagiarism. This results in the student reporter / victim being excluded from the investigation process entirely. So, once they make a complaint, they are often kept in the dark regarding ongoing investigations, any findings — and what (if any) action is taken as a result. Georgina has been advocating for a set of guidelines/procedures that universities must follow when handling claims of sexual misconduct following a report. The lack of clear guidance and regulation in this area continues to be a problem. Georgina (on behalf of McAllister Olivarius) and the 1752 Group, wrote some recommendations for the HE sector in 2018 in relation to staff-to-student sexual misconduct.
Georgina said, “Where a student or staff member reports sexual misconduct, universities really must modify their disciplinary process to acknowledge that there are two individuals whose rights will be affected – the reporter as well as the respondent. Otherwise many are let down: the reporting person, others who do not report because they have no confidence that the process will be fair, and administrators who are trying hard to do right by everyone but have no simple step-by-step guide as to how to modify the process to create a level playing field between the two parties.”
This was a very interesting subject, and definitely had many in the room wondering why such a problematic approach is still common practice within the university sector. We will be following Georgina’s progress regarding this issue closely.
Our next speaker Vivi Friedgut, Founder and CEO of Blackbullion, passionately painted a picture of the need to build student resilience in the today’s society, which they can feel is a depressing and scary place, with Government problems and global issues weighing heavily on their shoulders.
Vivi said, “We need to move past the current narrative that young people are in a hopeless and helpless position and help them feel less overwhelmed by the future. Financial control is the key to mental and physical health and when used properly creates opportunities and choices in life. We can work hard to give them financial education, but we also need to change the story they are hearing so then can believe they have the power to create the lives they want, to have an impact and make the world better. Perception is reality.”
Vivi perfectly rounded off a programme of excellent speakers, all illustrating different features of what the modern student faces. The audience response to the issues presented was heartfelt. While all the speakers covered different aspects of the student experience, they highlighted the need for the ProtectED code of practice to bring improved standards of student safety, security and wellbeing to universities across the country. The programme concluded with the official welcoming of our latest ProtectED Founder Member institution, Brunel University London. Lesley O’Keeffe, Deputy Director Academic and Student Services at Brunel proudly collected her membership certificate presented by our host, Lord Kennedy of Southwark.