In late 2016, tens of thousands of Australian university students were asked to participate in Australia’s first-ever national prevalence survey on university student experiences of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

The survey results will give Australian universities a clearer evidence base to guide further work to prevent and address sexual assault and sexual harassment. It is a critical part of the university sector’s Respect. Now. Always. campaign that aims to  keep university students safe.”

— Universities Australia ​

Universities Australia/Human Rights Commission Report Change The Course: National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities (2017) was released on Tuesday August 1 2017.

The prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault in Universities requires universities to continue to review and improve their responses to this serious problem. ACGR is particularly committed to supporting our members  as they work to improve the support structures in place for higher degree by research students and supervisors in response to the release of the survey results.

Principles for Respectful Supervisory Relationships

On the 12 month anniversary of this report, Universities Australia released the Principles for Respectful Supervisory Relationships  which were developed jointly by UA, ACGR, NTEU and CAPA.

The  Principles make it clear that on the basis of the power imbalance that exists between supervisors and candidates, any sexual or romantic relationship that develops raises questions about capacity for consent and academic integrity and is therefore never appropriate. They also emphasise that a  safe and supportive research training environment for all must be built on a culture of mutual respect and trust.

Building Respectful Research Cultures

Over 50 senior university leaders and managers met in Brisbane on Friday 16 March in a clear display of their commitment to address and reduce the risk of sexual harassment and assault for candidates undertaking research degrees in Australia.

Convened and supported by the Australian Council of Graduate Research Inc. (ACGR), attendees of the forum agreed that building a culture of respect and equality is critical to the provision of safe and supportive research training environment for all. Also in attendance and presenting was a representative from the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA).

Previous ACGR Convener and chair of the discussion panel at the forum, Professor Denise Cuthbert said: “The fact that representatives of over 30 universities travelled from around Australia to take part in this program clearly demonstrates how committed our members are to act decisively and effectively on this issue.”

A copy of the program, the presentations made at the forum and a useful video are available here.

Building on the recommendations from the Human Rights Commissions 2017 report, Change the Course: National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities, the ACGR discussed how respectful research cultures must be at the core of the university environments. The report raised some disturbing statistics and trends, with the University sector stating their commitment to respond as a matter of urgency.

ACGR Convener, Professor Sue Berners-Price confirmed the Council’s core tenet that “the emotional, physical and academic welfare of the student must always be the most important consideration in all dealings with, and support for, candidates”.

Taking advice from experts in academe, student services, and the law and listening carefully to both candidates and supervisors, ACGR committed to a significant investment in this important matter. While raising awareness was important, so is taking concrete actions to ensure universities are leading the way in building respectful environments – not just as individual institutions, but across the sector.

Working with stakeholders, it was agreed that the Council will develop a suite of shared resources that will help train and support staff and research candidates in universities across Australia and strengthen the culture of respect and equality which must underpin all research training programs. Such resources will complement the work that Universities Australia, the National Tertiary Education Union, CAPA, ACGR and individual institutions have already started.

Member of the ACGR Executive, Professor James Arvanitakis, stated that we are “committed to a zero-tolerance approach to harassment and sexual misconduct. Any incident is one too many, and the Human Rights Commission report highlighted that we can and must do better.”