Minister Mitchell O’Connor Launches Framework for Consent in Higher Education Institutions

The Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. today (5 April 2019) launched the Framework for Consent in Higher Education Institutions: “Safe, Respectful, Supportive and Positive – Ending Sexual Violence and Harassment in Irish Higher Education Institutions”.

The Framework aims to ensure the creation of an institutional campus culture which is safe, respectful and supportive. It has been developed by an Expert Advisory Group comprising academics, students and leaders in the area of sexual health among students. They were tasked with devising standards that all institutions will be required to implement. Funding of €400,000 is to be made available over the period 2019-2020 to assist institutions in this important work.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor said: “Sexual violence and harassment has no place in our institutions. It is unacceptable that any student, researcher or staff member should experience it. Through the development of this framework, I believe we can escalate an institutional culture change on our campuses. Institutions have a duty of care to their students and staff and this framework is about instigating change. I want the results to be comprehensive and game-changing.”

The Framework draws from international best practice and research to provide institutions with standards and guidance on what works to create a safe and supportive culture. It sets out aims for students, for the Higher Education Authority, the Department of Education and Skills, for higher education institutions themselves and for staff of institutions.

The four key outcomes of the Framework will be:

– Institutional culture: Effective structures in place, with institutions assigning responsibility by a management team member to implement the framework, including stakeholders in the process
– Institutional Processes: Recording and reporting of statistics of incidents
– Institutional policies: Dedicated policies consistent with the aims of the Framework, with clear lines of responsibility, reporting, transparency, and implementation supported by institutional leadership
– Targeted initiatives: for students and staff, including direct student facing activities that promote an understanding of consent, an education plan to support students and staff, systems for measuring the effectiveness of initiative s and accessible trauma-informed services.

Commenting on the Framework outcomes Minister Mitchell O’Connor said: “Our institutions of learning should always be places of respect and inclusion. Institutions have a duty of care to their students and staff, and a responsibility to foster a campus culture that is clear in the condemnation of unwanted and unacceptable behaviours.

“Higher education leads the way in so much – in research, in development, in thought leadership. It is time our campuses led the way in providing safe, respectful environments.

“The higher education student experience is not only concerned with the pursuit of academic excellence, but should also prepare students to engage with and make positive contributions to society. Creating a positive student experience empowers individuals to foster a culture of respect, dignity and integrity.

“I would like to thank most sincerely all those who have contributed to this Framework. Last October I convened a workshop on consent and eradication of sexual violence and harassment on our campuses. I was delighted with the level of support from all those who attended, and our combined call for a collective national standard for our higher education institutions on supporting consent and responding to sexual violence.

“The Expert Advisory Group, chaired by Anne Looney from DCU has done a remarkable job of developing this Framework, and I thank them for their dedication and commitment.

“I am very proud that we now have a logical and cohesive framework, which promotes a healthy and informed understanding of consent in our higher education system. Funding is available to support this, and I look forward to its whole-hearted adoption by our institutions. I am confident it will contribute significantly to Ireland’s innovative approach to positive and progressive action in this sector”.