UK Research on sexual harassment in tertiary education


Education institutions, as learning environment for young people and as workplace of teachers and other education personnel, must be safe, propitious and healthy places for education staff and students to thrive and work properly. The University and College Union’s (UCU) from the UK published a major report on sexual violence in the country’s university and college workplaces.

According to the survey, in the past five years:

  • 12% of women and 5% of men have directly experienced workplace sexual violence,
  • 52% of those who directly experienced sexual violence did not disclose or report it to their employer,
  • 70% of those who directly experienced sexual violence experienced it as an ongoing pattern of behaviour rather than a one-off incident,
  • Staff on non-permanent contracts were 1.3 times as likely to experience direct sexual violence than those in permanent roles.

Sexual violence in the workplace remains a serious and prevalent issue. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed women to higher risks of gender-based violence and harassment including cyber-bullying. The report highlights that, sexual harassment and violence is shaped by power inequalities and different factors in the workplace in tertiary education which makes some workers more vulnerable to harm, e.g. women, disabled, non-binary, trans, and racial minority persons, PhD students and workers with non-permanent contracts.

Of those who directly experienced sexual violence, 28% were assaulted by someone in a management position (10% by a line manager; 18% by a manager). The report further emphasises that senior management in tertiary education are failing to tackle the issue properly and refusing to acknowledge the prevalence and scale of the sexual violence taking place.

When violent incidents take place, the quality of learning and teaching is highly influenced, obstructed and distressing leading to burnouts and psychological traumas. It is vital and of utmost importance that education institutions take actions to prevent sexual violence and harassment in education institutions and facilitate a healthy and positive working and learning environment.

Sexual violence and harassment is a collective issue that requires collective solution. Education employers, workers and trade unions should work together on this issue. ETUCE is committed to raising awareness on the problem of gender-based violence against teachers, academics and other education personnel and to lobby education and employment authorities to consider this a health and safety issue at the workplace.


Find more information here:

The report “Eradicating sexual violence in tertiary education” from UCU

Article “Sexual harassment rife in UK universities, warns staff union” from the Guardian

Press Release “Sexual violence endemic at UK universities and colleges” by UCU

Statement “Gender-based violence is also a workplace matter: time for EU action” by EU sectoral social partners to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November 2021.

ETUCE Action Plan on Gender Equality