UK Universities Are Using Non-Disclosure Agreements To Stop Students Going Public With Complaints About Sexual Assault

Following the revelation, the government is legislating to stop this misuse.

Woman signing document

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

Nearly a third of UK universities have been silencing students who make complaints with non-disclosure agreements, new research shows. Following the revelation, the government is legislating to stop this misuse, calling the issue ‘unacceptable’.

According to data obtained by The Next Episode podcast, 300 students have signed NDAs since 2016 across 45 universities with £1.3million paid out to students overall. However, this is considered an ‘underestimate’ given that the data was obtained by a Freedom of Information (FOI) request with 134 universities (of 136 in the UK) responding ‘to varying degrees of transparency’.

Complaints include sexual-assault cases, bullying, poor teaching, accommodation issues, lack of disability support and false advertising of courses. Last year, it was reported the sexual violence and harassment cases at universities had trebled in three years, with just 33 of 124 universities investigated employing specialist investigators to interview students making the claims.

According to one student who reported her alleged sexual assault to the police and her university, the institution refused to investigate once police dropped the case because of insufficient evidence.

She was then asked to sign an agreement saying she would be ‘expelled’ if she talked publicly about her allegations; she says the university even threatened to sue her if she does. She says she signed the document because it included an agreement that prevented her alleged attacker from contacting her and feared for her safety at the time.

‘It terrified me,’ she told the BBC. ‘They told me to not tell my parents, to not tell my friends, to basically just be quiet about it… it made it feel like it was my fault.’

According to lawyer Georgina Calvert-Lee, such NDAs were most likely to be unenforceable legally and were completely ‘unethical’. UK Universities has also stated that NDAs should not be used to silence students. Government ministers are now legislating against this type of misuse.

‘This is nothing short of an abuse of power,’ Chris Skidmore, the minister for universities, science, research and innovation tweeted in response to the news. ‘I have spoken against the use of NDAs on staff, but it is staggering that some universities have used them against students.’

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