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Tackling online harassment and promoting online welfare

3 Sep 2019 1:30PM

Universities UK (UUK) has published guidance for universities on how to tackle online harassment, including cyber bullying, trolling and sexting.

It follows research by University of Suffolk’s Director of Research, Professor Emma Bond and Katie Tyrell, Research Associate at the University of Suffolk, into the issues. The research has been highlighted as a model of good practice by UUK.

Speaking to the Guardian, Professor Bond, said online harassment had reached a ‘watershed moment’ with the first generation of students who grew up with smartphones entering higher education.

“What students are not thinking about as they come to university and are now 18 or 19 is the legality of still having images of younger school peers in their cloud storage or on their devices. Less than a quarter of universities have adequate procedures to deal with online harassment. It’s really ad hoc as to whether or not universities even record these incidents. Some have got policies, some haven’t. There’s no uniformity at all.”

The guidance, which can be found here, includes principles and recommendations for universities including:

  • moving accountability for tackling online harassment to the senior leadership team
  • meaningfully and consistently involving students in the development, execution and assessment of initiatives to tackle online harassment, as well involving students’ unions, academics and all staff
  • updating partnership agreements, such as the student contract or code of conduct, to include expected behaviours in the online sphere
  • adopting the term ‘online harassment’ in policies and making clear to staff and students that what can be referred to as ‘cyberbullying’ can constitute harassment or a hate crime
  • implementing accessible reporting mechanisms for students to make a disclosure or report
  • collecting data on how online harassment is experienced within the student cohort and providing governing bodies with regular reports on online harassment
  • working with partners , including schools and colleges, to provide early information to students on arrangements to tackle harassment and consequences of inappropriate behaviour online
  • regularly reviewing policies and using tools, such as the University of Suffolk’s higher education online safeguarding self-review tool, to support this
  • encouraging staff as role models in championing appropriate online behaviour
  • considering adopting the questions on the National Student Survey (NSS) relating to student safety


The University of Suffolk is a member of UUK and takes a zero tolerance approach to online harassment.



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