WRONGDOING IN ACADEMIA: STATISTICS AND DATA
- Sexual Misconduct
- LGBT+ Discrimination
- Disability Discrimination
- Gender Discrimination
- Research Fraud and Misconduct
- Impact of Wrongdoing
- The Data:
1.1 Wrongdoing against staff and students is epidemic in universities. The following information paints a picture of some of the wrongdoing that students and academic and non-academic staff are subjected to on a daily basis. The data is limited, so it is highly likely to be the tip of the iceberg.
1.2.1 According to the 2018 Student Room Survey:
- 70% of female students and recent graduates surveyed have experienced sexual violence (48% experienced sexual assault).
- 26% of male students and recent graduates surveyed have experienced sexual violence (17% experienced sexual assault).
- 61% of non-binary students and recent graduates surveyed have experienced sexual violence (47% experienced sexual assault).
- 73% of students and recent graduates surveyed with a disability have experienced sexual violence (54% have experienced sexual assault).
1.2.2 These figures are reflected in the NUS Connect/1752 Group study of 2018. This study analysed sexual misconduct by staff against students (as opposed to all sexual misconduct, including student against student misconduct). It found that:
- Four in ten students (585 out of 1535) had experienced at least one experience of sexualised behaviour from university staff.
- Out of all 1839 respondents (current and former students), 752 (41%) had experienced at least one instance of sexualised behaviour from staff, while a further 94 (5%) were aware of someone they know experiencing this.
1.2.3 According to the NUS Connect/1752 Group Study, women and members of the LGBT+ community were most likely to be victims of sexual misconduct.
1.2.4 The NUS Connect/1752 Group Study found that, of the current and former students who experienced sexual misconduct 90% reported at least one way in which their institution failed them:
- Over half of respondents believed that their institution did not respond adequately to their complaint.
- Half of respondents believed that the institution had denied their experience or made reporting difficult.
- Only one in four respondents who had reported their experience to their institution thought that their institution had taken proactive steps to prevent this type of experience.
1.3.1 In its report Tackling Racial Harassment: Universities Challenged, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that “racial harassment is a common experience for a wide range of students and staff at universities across England, Scotland and Wales. Around a quarter of students from an ethnic minority background (24%)... said they had experienced racial harassment since starting their course...In most cases students said their harasser was another student, but a large number said it was their tutor or another academic… International students told us about feeling unwelcome, isolated and vulnerable.”
1.3.2 The report also notes: “Over half of staff who responded to us described incidents of being ignored or excluded because of their race. More than a quarter said they experienced racist name-calling, insults and jokes. Much of this harassment took place in office environments, frequently in plain sight of their colleagues… We received examples of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic slurs, and anti-English sentiment at Scottish and Welsh universities, for both staff and students. We were told that most incidents were part of a pattern of repeated harassment.”
1.3.3 It is worth noting that only 2% of academics are black, less than 1% of professors are black and that there are only 25 black female professors in UK universities (Fewer than 1% of UK university professors are black, figures show, The Guardian, 27 February 2020).
1.3.4 A University College Union (UCU) report found that white academic staff at the UK’s universities and colleges were also found to earn £7,000 more than their black peers, or 14 per cent more. Non-academic university from BAME backgrounds have a pay gap of 9 per cent compared to their white co-workers. (Black and minority ethnic academics less likely to be professors and earn less than white colleagues, analysis finds, The Independent, 15 October 2019).
1.3.5 The EHRC report also found that universities are not following guidance on how to handle complaints and are not recording informal complaints. More than half of those who experienced racial harassment did not report it, citing lack of confidence in the university’s complaints process, not knowing how to report the incident and fears of retaliation: they “feared the personal consequences that reporting might have on their education, career and wellbeing, or worried they would be seen as a troublemaker. For students, this was most evident where their tutors had the potential to directly affect long-term career prospects, especially for students on medical placements and postgraduates carrying out research working closely with senior academics.” (this article is representative of the experience of many complainants: I reported harassment and was silenced – and I’m a senior academic, The Guardian, 8 October 2018).
1.3.6 Students from a “working class” background have reported severe and systemic bullying from staff and other students at several institutions. A student at Durham University explained: “I was accused of stealing, I was told I would never get a job because of the way I speak, I was told that I was a waste of a worthy student’s place. I received this from students and staff alike.” And according to another Durham student: “In the college dining hall I have been called a ‘dirty northerner’, and a ‘chav’... A fellow student asked me: ‘Are you going to take the spare food home to feed your family?’”( Students from northern England facing 'toxic attitude' at Durham University, The Guardian, 19 October 2020).
1.3.7 Similarly, students with accents from the North of England have also faced discrimination. A student originally from Scarborough studying at Edinburgh University reported being told: “‘You’ll never get anywhere talking like that, it makes you sound stupid. You need to try and flatten your Yorkshire accent.’ That was a member of staff in my third year of university.” And a student from the Black Country studying at Birmingham University recalled: “Staff on more than one occasion said ‘we don’t normally get your type here’ or ‘perhaps you could try and fit in’.” ('It's had a lasting impact': students on being bullied over their accents, The Guardian, 24 October 2020)
1.3.8 It is worth noting that the EHRC focused on racism against non-white students and staff. We have heard reports of discrimination against white students, for example from Eastern Europe.
1.4.1 In addition to facing higher levels of sexual misconduct (see above), LGBT+ students have been found to suffer discrimination by Stonewall in their 2018 LGBT in Britain - University Report:
1.4.2 “One in seven LGBT students (14 per cent) have been the target of negative comments or conduct from a member of university staff in the last year because they are LGBT. This rises to more than a third of trans students (36 per cent) compared to seven per cent of LGB students who don’t identify as trans”.
1.4.3 “More than two in five LGBT students (42 per cent) hid or disguised they are LGBT at university in the last year because they were afraid of discrimination. This rises to three in five trans students (61 per cent) compared to a third of LGB students (34 per cent) who don’t identify as trans”.
1.4.4 According to the Stonewall report, discrimination is higher for LGBT+ students who are disabled, from an ethnic minority or from a lower income household:
- This percentage of disabled students who disguised their LGBT+ identity was 51 per cent, as well as black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT+ students, 48 per cent, and LGBT students of faith, 46 per cent...
- Almost half of LGBT disabled students (47 per cent) experienced negative comments or conduct from other students.
- LGBT people in category C2DE (lower income households) are also more likely to experience this than LGBT people in ABC1 (higher income households), 43 per cent compared to 30 per cent.
1.5.1 Although there is no single study on disability discrimination, there have been reports that students with disabilities are dropping out because of a lack of support and that, “of the full-time undergraduates who declared a disability, those with mental health conditions had the lowest continuation rate (86.8 per cent), compared to non-disabled students (90.3 per cent (Disabled students dropping out amid ‘inadequate’ support, charities and unions warn, The Independent, 18 October 2019).
1.5.2 In relation to students on the autistic spectrum, the number of students with social and communication impairments has increased from 2,815 in 2010-11 to 10,595 in 2017-18. Some need extra time to process information, feel intense anxiety in social situations, and find noise and bright lights distressing. According to Claire Burton, who leads on student support at the National Autistic Society: “Far too many are struggling to get autism-specific support and end up dropping out. There’s too much inconsistency.” ('Far too many are struggling': are universities failing autistic students? The Guardian, 16 December 2019)
1.6.1 According to the University and College Union, in 2015-16 the gender pay gap in universities was about 12%.
1.6.2 In 2017, research from the Guardian found that “while women dominate at the early-career levels of research and teaching assistant, as seniority and salary increases the percentage of women staff members decreases. At professor level, less than one quarter of staff are women” (Gender pay gap in academia will take 40 years to close The Guardian, 26 May 2017).
1.6.3 A 2019 study by a Cardiff University academic found that gender discrimination was common in UK universities regardless of whether the woman had children: “The study, of 2,270 academics at 24 top UK universities, found the men reached more senior levels than the women, even after parenthood was accounted for...The study...found a negative link between being a woman and the likelihood of being employed at senior level.”
1.6.4 As noted above, there are only 25 female black professors in UK universities, which, once gain, shows that discrimination can be particularly acute when someone has characteristics that combine different categories of discrimination.
1.6.5 It is also noteworthy that women have a higher likelihood of being subjected to sexual misconduct, including by university staff, at least when they are students. There are currently no studies that we are aware of that analyse the prevalence of sexual misconduct against academic and non-academic staff.
1.6.6 Regarding pregnancy discrimination against students, education institutions are required under employment law to make maternity provisions for working mothers. In spite of the Equality Act 2010, there is no legal requirement ensuring that the same rights are extended to students who are mothers. Flexible working, maternity leave and nursing facilities are examples of protected provisions available to workers. Student mothers are just as vulnerable to maternity discrimination, yet these protections are rarely extended to them. This blind-spot has led to the rights of student mothers being discretionary. Many pregnant students are forced out of education as a result.
1.7.1 Research by The Guardian found that “hundreds of academics have been accused of bullying students and colleagues in the past five years, prompting concerns that a culture of harassment and intimidation is thriving in Britain’s leading universities… Nearly 300 academics, including senior professors and laboratory directors, were accused of bullying students and colleagues. Dozens of current and former academics spoke of aggressive behaviour, extreme pressure to deliver results, career sabotage and HR managers appearing more concerned about avoiding negative publicity than protecting staff.” (Hundreds of academics at top UK universities accused of bullying, The Guardian, 28 September 2018, see also ‘It’s cut-throat’: half of UK academics stressed and 40% thinking of leaving, The Guardian, 21 May 2019).
1.7.2 A wide-ranging study by the Wellcome Trust has found that “nearly two-thirds of researchers (61%) have witnessed bullying or harassment, and 43% have experienced it themselves. Just one in three (37%) feel comfortable speaking up, with many doubting appropriate action will be taken. Just over half of researchers (53%) have sought, or have wanted to seek, professional help for depression or anxiety.”
1.7.3 Bullying is endemic and is often used by universities to isolate, silence and retaliate against those who make a complaint, as forthcoming research by Prof Sara Ahmed has found and as we have been finding from our experiences and the experiences of those who contact us.
1.8.1 Research has found that “the number of students taking their own lives has overtaken the general population for first time. The suicide rate among UK students had risen by 56 per cent in the 10 years between 2007 and 2016, from 6.6 to 10.3 per 100,000 people.” (Universities have a suicide problem as students taking own lives overtakes general population, The Telegraph, 12 April 2018, see also ‘The way universities are run is making us ill’: inside the student mental health crisis, The Guardian, 27 September 2019).
1.8.2 In 2015, 134 students killed themselves. By comparison, there were 91 suicides in prisons in 2019 (Suicide is at record level among students at UK universities, study finds, The Guardian, 2 September 2017 and Prisoner suicides surge by 23%, official figures reveal The Independent, 10 October 2019). Although the student population was 2.3 million in 2015 while the prison population is much lower (about 80,000 people), it is remarkable that more students than prisoners should decide to take their own lives, considering that students have their whole lives in front of them, full of opportunity and possibilities, compared to prisoners, whose opportunities and freedoms are being curtailed.
1.9 Research misconduct and research fraud are common in universities and research institutions and this is particularly dangerous as it can create false results on which other research is built and it weakens the public’s trust in research and science, which is vital to a well-function society especially during a pandemic.
1.9.1 Some scientists have been dedicating their lives to the pursuit of science integrity, including Dr Elisabeth Bik, Dr Leonid Schneider and Dr Rune Linding. They expose research falsification, manipulation and fraud every day. Universities are often aware and cover up for it to retain grants and funding and attract more funding (see How Universities Cover Up Scientific Fraud, Areo, 20 February 2020).
1.9.2 One example is Dr Paolo Macchiarini work at UCL. He became well-known for his trachea transplant work, in which he transplanted artificial tracheas into patients and did work on stem cells, which he claimed to be revolutionary in saving patients’ lives. However, six out of eight of his patients had died following their surgery, but this was suppressed by UCL. An independent inquiry found that experimental implants manufactured at UCL were sent abroad and used on patients despite not having approval for human use. After the scandal broke out, UCL eventually terminated Macchiarini’s position; he has now been convicted on criminal negligence in Italy and the Swedish authorities are investigating him for manslaughter (for reference: Artificial organs used in operations without approval for humans and UCL trachea transplant inquiry: scapegoating, obfuscation and a lost nose).
1.9.3 There have also been serious and credible accusations of misuse of cancer research funds by the University of Manchester: “The University of Manchester-based immunologist Silvia Bulfone-Paus receives [Cancer Research UK] funding despite past massive misconduct findings and forced resignation as institute director in Germany, after 13 retractions. More recently, CRUK announced to have no inclination whatsoever to investigate the accusations of bullying and research misconduct in the Manchester CRUK institute of Richard Marais (The Crooks of CRUK, Dr Leonid Schneider).
1.9.4 Cancer Research UK, as a funding body and as a charity, as well as the University of Manchester, as a research institution and a charity, owe a moral and legal duty to the public to use their funds and resources in the pursuit of knowledge. However, the alleged conduct raises questions as to their willingness to investigate allegations of misuse of funds. Because this relates to cancer research, this failure by both institutions is particularly dangerous: if research output is falsified, it creates a risk that other scientists and researchers could rely on it for cancer treatments or cures. This could put patients at risk and it could waste further precious cancer research funding, time and effort.
1.10 Other wrongdoing that is prevalent in universities is covering up for crimes that the universities does not want investigated by the police (we have had two students at different universities complaining to have been assaulted by other students who were told that the CCTV recording was overwritten so the police could not investigate); students not being assigned teachers, tutors or PhD supervisors who have the appropriate expertise; breach of personal data and breach of confidence; abusive staff or university behaviour, such as retaliation after complaints, including death threats and preventing the person from finding a job in academia.
1.11 In summary:
University wrongdoing manifests itself in different ways, but the patterns are similar throughout:
- A culture where wrongdoing is not only tolerated, but covered up;
- Inadequate complaints processes rife with conflicts of interests and lack of formal guidance.
- Fear of repercussions for the complainant’s career prospects.
- Lack of external oversight.
1.12 An archive of media articles on university wrongdoing is available here.
2.1 The effect of university wrongdoing on victims can be devastating. It can cause or aggravate mental illness and drive people to suicide. It can prevent the victim from completing their course, from continuing their job and from finding a job elsewhere in academia. Wrongdoing can be costly for the individual in terms of health and finances, with many students and staff having to use their savings or taking out loans to pay for legal fees.
2.2 For the taxpayer and society, wrongdoing costs millions of pounds every year. Universities pay legal fees, settlements (including non-disclosure agreements), and higher insurance premiums; ultimately the taxpayer and students through their fees are funding university misconduct that blights the lives of so many.
2.3 As university misconduct costs millions, this also prevents that money to be used for teaching and research, which is the purpose of universities. This is detrimental to students and staff as well as society.
2.4 Finally, universities set themselves out to be bastions of integrity and transparency, but they act in manner completely contrary to the values they seek to uphold. Society seems to have lost faith in universities, but this is hardly surprising considering their conduct.