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New plan to stop on-campus violence

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Student safety at Australian universities is threatened by widespread reports of sexual violence. A new action plan hopes to confront this.
Student safety

Australian universities would be required to meet minimum safety standards for students under a new proposal from the Federal Government.

The framework, released on Wednesday, forms part of a proposed action plan to prevent gender-based violence in Australian higher education.

The plan will need to be agreed to by federal, state and territory governments before it is finalised.

Student safety at university

Federal, state, and territory education officials have drafted a new plan to reduce the prevalence of on-campus assaults, following a review of the higher education sector.

According to a 2021 survey of over 40,000 students, one-sixth of Australian students have been sexually harassed at university, and one in 20 have been sexually assaulted. The majority of perpetrators were men.

Students with a disability, First Nations, and LGBTQIA+ students are more likely to experience sexual violence than other students.

University accountability

The draft plan includes a suggested national code of minimum requirements for universities, including educating students on respectful relationships and improving reporting of gender-based violence. Universities would be expected to share this data with the Government.

The plan called on universities to ensure co-curricular clubs and societies actively promote gender equality and respect.

The draft plan requires university staff to proactively prevent sexual harassment.

It also recommended student housing providers work with universities to improve reporting processes. For example, it suggested avoiding students having to recount traumatic experiences on multiple occasions.

National Ombudsman

The plan also suggested the Federal Government establish a National Student Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman would hear complaints from students about how universities handled student safety concerns.

It would consider the legality of actions by universities, and be able to ask providers to refund student fees as part of dispute resolution processes.

What’s next?

The education ministers of each Australian government released the draft plan after meeting on Tuesday.

It is now open to public consultation, which will be accepted until 31 January.

Public feedback will influence changes to the action plan, which will then return to the ministers for further consideration.

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