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Equally Safe in Further and Higher Education minutes: December 2017

Published: 23 Feb 2018
Date of meeting: 8 Dec 2017

Minutes from the first meeting of the Equally Safe in Further and Higher Education Working Group held on 8 December 2017.

23 Feb 2018
Equally Safe in Further and Higher Education minutes: December 2017

Attendees and apologies


  • Ms Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science
  • Anni Donaldson, Knowledge Exchange Fellow, and Kelly Claffey, Equally Safe Higher Education Team, University of Strathclyde
  • Vonnie Sandlan, Senior Policy Officer, Colleges Scotland
  • Shuwanna Aaron, NUS Scotland Women’s Officer
  • Susanna Lane, Universities Scotland
  • Neil Rennick, Director of Justice
  • Gareth Allen, James Boyce and Steven Paxton, Directorate of Advanced Learning and Science, Scottish Government.


  • Dr Aimee McCullough, University of Strathclyde
  • Melanie McCarry, University of Strathclyde
  • Rachel Adamson, Scottish Funding Council
  • Ria Phillips and Saira Kapasi, Scottish Government

Items and actions

1. Introductions and Welcome

The meeting began with a welcome and thank you to all the attendees to the meeting.

Gareth Allen advised that the proposed purpose of the Group was to consider how the Scottish Government and the Sector might work together, to ensure the provision of a safe environment for students and staff in FE and HE institutions. In particular, to consider how we might work together on action in relation to colleges and universities, as described in the recently published Equally Safe Delivery plan. Tackling violence against women and girls is a key part of the current Programme for Government and the inaugural meeting of the Equally Safe Working Group coincided with the United Nation’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence.

2. Equally Safe Delivery Plan and Universities and Colleges

2.1. Equally Safe Overview

The Director of Justice Neil Rennick explained that Equally Safe, the Scottish Government and COSLA’s joint strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls (VaWG) was first published in June 2014, with an updated version published in March 2016. The Equally Safe Delivery Plan was published on 24 November 2017.

The strategy was developed in consultation with a wide range of statutory and third sector partners and was also informed by feedback from women who use services. Equally Safe reinforces the Scottish Government’s position that VaWG is underpinned by gender inequality, and in order to prevent and eradicate it from society, efforts must be focussed on delivering greater gender equality, tackling perpetrators, and intervening early and effectively to prevent violence. The Directorate’s work had been focussed on the justice system and some major achievements were noted, such as domestic abuse cases taking half the time to get to court than had previously been the case; the launch of the very successful social media campaign ‘ I just froze’; work with the Chief Medical Officer to improve access to forensic medical examinations; developing a victim not justice focussed approach; and working closely with Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to improve the reporting of cases. Neil emphasised that we cannot prosecute our way out of gender based violence and sexual harassment but that a wider approach was needed, addressing stereotypes and the underlying causes.

Recent research, requested by the Justice Secretary, suggests increased online offending has contributed to higher levels of recorded sexual crime over the longer term. Victims were mostly female and majority were under 16 years, 95% of perpetrators were male. Around half of the growth in all recorded sexual crime between 2013-14 and 2016-17 is due to growth in ‘Other sexual crimes’ that have been committed online. This included crimes like communicating indecently or causing others to view sexual activity or images. Where these crimes are committed online, they are much more likely to have younger victims and younger perpetrators (74% of victims were aged under 16).

The Justice Secretary and Solicitor General have established an expert group to look at and identify further steps to prevent sexual offending by young people. Given the age profile of the people involved (school or school leavers) - it is not only for justice agencies to implement policies in relation to violence against women - local authorities, key services, and key institutions such as universities and colleges, have a role in early intervention.

A series of FOI requests in 2016 revealed that many Universities within Scotland were not recording reports of sexual assault or that the reporting was so low it suggested that victims were not informing the University of incidents.

Neil advised that some £20 million from Justice budgets was allocated towards tackling violence against women over 2015-18. Funding under this budget was aligned with the key priorities within the justice aspects of Equally Safe, and as a result the Scottish Government supported the University of Strathclyde to develop a pilot to embed policies and pathway responses for Higher Education Institutions recognising that universities did not appear to have a consistent response to violence against women issues.

2.2. Equally Safe Delivery Plan

Garth Allen noted that the Equally Safe Delivery Plan includes a total of 118 actions under four priority areas. The action in relation to universities and colleges, is under Priority 1 which says:

“Scottish society embraces equality and mutual respect, and rejects all forms of violence against women and girls”

And within the section on Children and Young People, which says:

“We know that attitudes are formed in early years, and education settings play a critical role”.

The action in relation to universities and colleges, says that we will seek to:

“Work with universities and colleges to ensure the provision of a safe environment for students and staff through learning and on campus action, utilising learning from existing practice, relevant recommendations for improvement, and learning from the ‘Equally Safe in Higher Education’ project”

A progress report on all the actions, will be published on an annual basis over the lifetime of the Plan, updating on relevant activity and progress towards achieving outcomes. Critically the delivery plan emphasises implementation of these actions, happening in a strategic way through collaboration between partners.

Hence the roundtable discussion today to consider how everyone might work together and support each other to take this forward. It was noted that it was very timely in this respect that the University of Strathclyde Equally Safe Project has been developing an Equally Safe Toolkit, and it was thus incredibly helpful to have Anni and her colleagues at the meeting, to give an overview of that work.

Following Anni’s presentation, there would be a discussion on how to take forward this important work.

3. Presentation: Overview of the forthcoming Equally Safe Toolkit

Anni Donaldson, gave a presentation on the work of the University of Strathclyde Equally Safe in Higher Education (ESHE) Project. Anni is based in School of Social Work, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. In her presentation, Anni emphasised the gendered analysis nature of the Scottish and Welsh strategies compared with the other UK nations.

The development of the tool kit recognised: the need for a whole campus approach, that no one sector can address the challenge of gender based violence on its own, and the responsibility that universities have to their young people and the importance of a partnership approach. The latter was demonstrated by the close working relationship between the ESHE Project and Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis which was endorsed by Police Scotland. Anni explained the 360 degree Safeguarding approach, which was at the heart of the Toolkit, and covered Campus Policy, Early Intervention, Curriculum and Knowledge Exchange, and Gender Based Violence Primary Prevention. The Research Work Stream would also inform the development of the Tool Kit.

A copy of the presentation has been forwarded to attendees.

4. Discussion: Embedding Equally Safe in Universities and Colleges

Ms Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science introduced the discussion, emphasising the Government’s support for the implementation of this important policy initiative, to make university and college campus’ places free from sexual harassment and gender based violence.

The Minister noted the importance of an approach that embraces students and staff on and off campus, emphasises changing attitudes, and acknowledges the duty of care that Universities and Colleges have for their students. The urgency of momentum on this issue was critical and learning from the development of the toolkit could inform sector wide developments.

The discussion noted the following:

  • the importance of collaboration between Government, Police Scotland, Universities Scotland, Colleges Scotland, NUS Scotland and Students Unions, and the Scottish Funding Council, in the roll out of the Tool Kit and with local Rape Crisis Centres in service delivery. Data sharing, for example from Police Scotland with other agencies, could be a key feature of operational collaboration going forward.
  • the need for engagement with the VAW Sector, as it already recognises that there is a challenge in this area. The Bystander Project was cited as being an example of a project that focusses on changing attitudes and behaviour in the long term.
  • a lot of learning can be transferred from the university sector to the colleges sector. The difference between universities and colleges in terms of student profiles and the prevalence of part time courses in the sector was acknowledged. At the moment there was no baseline information from Colleges Scotland but this would be ready by February 2018.
  • the Working Group was, as the Minister explained, a ‘safe place’ to raise issues and challenges, and work through collective responses. Colleges Scotland noted the importance of resources and infrastructure for implementation. While there were no plans for a separate funding stream to the sector for the work, the Minister emphasised joint working, and the role Government was prepared to play in enabling this as key alongside partnership with the existing infrastructure, external to universities ands colleges.
  • Universities Scotland also embraced the approach and concurred that work needs to be done on policy, processes and reporting. The Universities Secretaries Group will be considering this matter at their February residential, and it was suggested that the Scottish Government and Strathclyde Project might wish to input to this event.
  • violence Against Women Partnerships were considered to be a key resource in coordinating events and Students Unions could play a key role in forming partnerships with local Rape Crisis Centres. Glasgow Kelvin College represented a useful model in this regard. Another possible model could be around universities and colleges coming together by region as was already happening in Edinburgh. The Minister noted the potential helpfulness of such an approach.
  • there was agreement that the working group could provide a safe space to bring together a number of things:
    • support adaptation of the toolkit for colleges and roll out across both the colleges and university
    • further work on issues and response that need further development
    • how to utilise Fresher’s Fayres to raise awareness and provide information.
  • a number of suggestions were made to add to the membership of the group, including Police Scotland, Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis Centre, ASSIST and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. A staff member from NUS Scotland should attend as well as Nicola McCallum, Colleges Scotland (Policy Officer).

Action: Scottish Government and Anni (GA and AD) to attend the Universities Secretaries Group to provide an input; others should be invited to join the Working Group including Police Scotland and the Crown Office (SP,GA NR). A staff member from NUS Scotland should attend as well as Nicola McCallum, Colleges Scotland (Policy Officer)(SA/VS).

5. Date of next meeting

The next meeting will be early in 2018.

Action: Steven to arrange (SP).


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