Monthly Archives: February 2017

Tackle sexual harassment on campus

Generation Z is starting university – but is higher education ready?

At the University of Salford, we’ve sought to respond to this agenda through the launch of ProtectED – a national university membership and accreditation scheme for student safety, security and wellbeing. The ProtectED code of practicecontains measures on university security; mental health and wellbeing; international student safety; the student night out; and harassment and sexual assault, all of which embed the taskforce recommendations. Member universities must implement all these measures to achieve accreditation, which is verified by trained assessors.

To develop the code, the Salford team of academics reviewed current best practice and university initiatives, surveyed 870 university students, and held discussion groups with students’ union sabbatical officers, police higher education liaison officers, and university security managers.

The student survey yielded the alarming findings that 90% of sexual assault victims hadn’t informed the police and 86% chose not to tell their university. Several responses echoed one individual’s sentiments: “[The assault] didn’t seem severe enough”. Others hinted at a culture of acceptance [pdf] around the issue: “I am referring to drunk individuals within nightclubs and it happens often but is not very serious.” Universities such as Worcester, Kent and Canterbury Christ Church have responded by developing bystander trainingwhich will help students recognise sexual harassment and abuse, understand that it is unacceptable, and give them the skills and confidence to respond appropriately. Sharing their work will enable other universities to replicate their good work.

The ProtectED survey also accentuated the importance of offering peer support – another accreditation requirement – as all students who experienced a sexual assault confided in their friends over the police, university and their families. Liverpool John Moores University will train student safeguarding champions to encourage reporting and provide approachable access to support and advice.

One survey respondent who did speak to their university explains: “No follow up made. Security laughed when I reported the assault.” This is why ProtectED requires universities to have a written policy on student harassment and sexual assault, covering staff and student perpetrators. Having a formal approach to promoting zero-tolerance, staff training, and reporting and recording methods will help ensure a more effective and uniform response. For example, Middlesex University, is creating a toolkit with students to ensure staff are absolutely clear on their role in supporting students and preventing abuse.

In ProtectED focus group sessions, university security managers rated sexual assault and harassment as having the greatest impact on universities, and provided anecdotal accounts of universities not recording incidents to minimise reputational damage

One security manager observed of their university: “If the university publicly acknowledged the problem, then – unless every university does it – it makes it look like there’s a specific issue with [x university] and their sexual harassment problem. And I think they think it will impact on prospective students. I don’t think it does. I personally think that I’d rather the university … put their hands up and be like, ‘This is an issue. We’re tackling it’.”

Data collection is vital to understanding the problem. Achieving ProtectED accreditation also means collecting and sharing student harassment and sexual assault data with ProtectED. This is anonymised, aggregated and used to inform research to benefit member institutions. To enable data collection and support students, universities need to provide accessible, user-friendly reporting methods. The University of Loughborough and the University of Cambridge will create anonymous online reporting systems to minimise discomfort for victims.

Meanwhile the University of Portsmouth is also using funds from the Higher Education Funding Council for England for a range of training and awareness-raising initiatives, they will crucially focus on staff-to-student sexual harassment. Dr Anna Bull will lead in this area, drawing on her work with the 1752 Group.

The government funded-pilots are a good start in getting to grips with student harassment and sexual assault, but attitudes and responses still vary widely across the sector — an unsettling prospect for students and their families. If universities are to respond effectively, they must collaborate to share their experiences, expertise and resources. ProtectED provides a forum for them to do so.

Creativity from the computer departement

For one thing, most of our staff have creative practices outside of, but frequently related to computing: they’re musicians, artists, social activists, and writers. If someone was wandering around the corridors and asked to guess what kind of academic department we’re in, they probably wouldn’t guess computing. But we are computer scientists, honest. The work we do is significant on the world stage, published in the best journals and presented at the best conferences.

We built a computing department that played to Goldsmiths’ core strengths in arts and social analyses and critiques

Lots of what we do involves integrating ideas across different disciplines and world views. In one project with Imperial College, we are helping people understand the way proteins dock. This could be a dry subject, but we use techniques from games and 3D digital art to produce visualisations for scientists and to aid pupils’ learning. In another, we are helping people collectively learn how to play music using a hybrid of audio-visual and social media techniques. In a third, we put an enormous man-made sun in the middle of Trafalgar Square. We also designed software with embedded machine learning, enabling users to build their own real-time interactive systems, including musical instruments.


Brillint. Independent. Unusually diverse. We draw a lot of our students from London and we naturally inherit a great deal of cultural diversity from the city. We are particularly proud of the prominence of women in the department. We have more than twice the average percentage of women on our degree courses, but we can and will do better.

We have a women in computing scholarship scheme for undergraduates, and we run events in our welcome week for new female students. We are active in national networks for women in Stem subjects, and our head of department is one of the two co-chairs of the Goldsmiths Athena SWAN team, working to ensure gender equality across the institution.

How else do you try to broaden the reach of computing education?

We have a mission to widen access both locally and globally. Locally, we work with London schools and further education colleges to enable inner-city pupils to find their way to university.

Globally, we have been working on distance learning initiatives for over 20 years. We are the provider of the undergraduate computing programmes for the University of London International Academy. Through that, we have educated thousands of students around the world.

Over the last few years, that global reach imperative has led us increasingly down a path of online provision. We have run Moocs (massive open online courses) on a number of platforms, teaching subjects stretching from data science to deep stack web development, and machine learning for artists. These have already reached over 200,000 learners. We expect this to grow quickly and are now expanding the department to help support the growth.

What online provision have you got coming up?

We are very excited about our next Mooc, which we think will be one of the world’s first to cover virtual reality. This will be led by our lecturer Dr Sylvia Xueni Pan.

Sylvia is a good example of the kind of lecturers we have. Growing up in Beijing, she went on to do a PhD and post-doctoral research in virtual reality at UCL, then joined us at Goldsmiths.

She’s interested in creating empathic social experiences in VR that are immersive and engaging, and she uses these experiences in training and education, therapy, and social neuroscience research. She has, for example, been using VR to train GPs to deal with (virtual) patients’ unreasonable demands for antibiotics. She also uses VR as a research tool for social scientists, and brings social science research to VR.

Her work has been featured in BBC Horizon, New Scientist and the Wall Street Journal. All of this thinking will inform the VR section soon to appear on the online study site, Coursera.

How did you get to be the department yo?

The department development began in 2001 when the idea of “the digital” was all over Goldsmiths, as it was all over everywhere else. It seemed a great time to build a computing department that played to Goldsmiths’ core strengths in arts and social analyses and critiques. So that’s what we did. We started joint research, and teaching programmes jointly. It has worked well for us and we are now deeply embedded in all Goldsmiths’ activities.

This worldview still affects much of what we do: as we expand the kinds of computing we explore, we retain a focus on arts, creativity and the social. Therefore, our two newest growth areas – virtual reality and data science – both embrace ideas from, and applications to, arts and social science.


The school where cuts are pushing teachers

Thursday morning. Ordinarily, this leafy street in south Londonwould be teeming with life, as boys clad in black blazers and striped ties make their way to school. Today, the road is uncharacteristically quiet.

It is the 13th day of strike action since November by teachers at Forest Hill School for Boys in Lewisham, and most of the 1,400 pupils are at home again. Their teachers are protesting against staff cuts designed to save the school £1.3m. Fifteen teaching jobs are being cut from September, more than 20 support staff have already gone, and the head teacher is now grappling with a rash of resignations from disillusioned teachers who want out.

A small group of striking teachers gather at the school gate. A few boys amble into the building for year 10 exams, music practice or a trip to Whitstable, as a van arrives with placards and a union banner is unfurled. The mood is subdued but picks up when someone finds the megaphone. The chants begin and energy levels lift: “No ifs, no buts, no Forest Hill cuts”; “They say cutback, we say fight back”; and “Not our deficit, it’s our school, don’t mess with it.”

Earlier in the dispute, the protests to highlight the plight of the school were bigger, but as the end of term approaches, numbers have diminished. Today, the gathering of staff is bolstered by a few parents who turn out in support – some with children – and there are regular toots from passing vehicles.

“It’s a fantastic school,” says Jacqueline Morrish, who has a son in year 9 and has turned out this morning to support his teachers. “It’s been brilliant. They treat the boys really well, and they flourish.” One father, whose 15-year-old son is one of the few attending school today, is also fully behind the striking teachers: “My boy is on the autistic spectrum. They are very good with special needs. That’s why he’s here. It’s been excellent.”

Teaching unions say the crisis is the result of years of frozen budgets, further eroded by higher pension, wage and tax costs, as well as inflation. As a result, the National Audit Office (NAO) calculates that schools are facing a £3bn real-terms cut in funding by 2019, with more schools going into deficit as a result. NAO figures show that the proportion of local authority-maintained secondary schools spending more than their income increased from 34% in 2010/11 to 59% in 2014-15, while the average size of deficit increased from £246,000 to £326,000 during the same period.

The growing schools funding crisisbecame a key issue in the general election campaign, forcing the Tory government to listen to parents’ and teachers’ concerns. On Monday, the education secretary Justine Greening announced an additional £1.3bn in schools’ funding to try to ease the pressure on budgets and placate angry parents. Teachers’ leaders say it is nowhere near enough. Given the scale of the deficit at Forest Hill, it is unlikely to have any immediate impact on the current crisis facing the school. Meanwhile, uncertainty remains over plans to reform the way in which schools are funded nationally, which could still have an additional impact on London schools.

Founded in 1956, Forest Hill school has been a popular, successful and highly regarded boys’ comprehensive that has served its diverse local community well. The original London county council brick structure has been replaced in the last decade with a modern PFI-funded building, which is shrouded in a distinctive palette of yellow and gold panels and cost £23.5m. The school’s reputation has been one of high achievement and inclusivity, catering for students of all backgrounds and abilities; its record on pastoral care and special educ

Students from Cuba is a sign of changes at the Open University

Cuba Solidarity is rightly leading protests at the banning of applications from Cuban students by the Open University. It has been policy for a while now that the OU does not accept applications from Syria, Sudan, Iran, Cuba and North Korea, because of the fear of US sanctions. So inclusivity and openness are now at risk on an international scale, which comes as no surprise to many of us employed by or associated with the Open University. This discriminatory policy comes with a context. The OU has form on producing progressive rhetoric when the reality of their strategies has for some years been a carnival of reaction. My central and regional colleagues have witnessed with dismay the loss of local offices, along with experienced and skilled student and tutor support staff, since the closure of my regional centre in the south-east in 2014. Many of the support staff are women who have been forced to take early retirement or voluntary redundancy – more effective discrimination. We were told by senior management that these closures were not to save money but to modernise and digitalise the institution. But fiascos have ensued in administrative processes, seriously disadvantaging students and overworking part- and full-time academic and administrative teams. The fall in student recruitment and retention is not just because of the huge hike in fees the OU put into place under the Tory coalition.

Fees Fees vary. The fee for a standard 30-credit module in England is £1,432, and for a standard 60-credit module it’s £2,864. Most students study 60 credits per year over six years for an honours degree.

Fees vary if you are overseas and are lower in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Scotland: If your personal income is £25,000 or less, or you’re on certain benefits, you could qualify for the part-time fee grant to cover 100% of your course fees. It’s not a loan – you won’t need to pay it back.

Wales: Dependent on your income and level of study you may be eligible for a course grant of up to £1,155 to help you pay for course-related costs. This is in addition to the part-time tuition fee loan which can pay for you fees. There’s nothing to pay upfront and you only start paying back when you earn more than £21,000.

Northern Ireland: For the 2017-18 academic year funding options in NI are changing. The current system of non-repayable fee and course grant support will continue to be available for those in receipt of state benefits or who have a low household income. In addition to this, a part-time tuition fee loan, which can be use used as a top-up to the fee grant is being introduced and will add to the range of payment options available for self-funding students. The application processes for fee grants and loans will open on 11 June.