Universities should overhaul guidelines on dealing with allegations of sexual assaults and harassment, according to a taskforce set up by the government.
Current guidelines were written in 1994 and should be updated to reflect legal changes and the effect of social media, the Universities UK taskforce said.
Key areas to be considered include better reporting systems and creating a “zero-tolerance culture”, it said.
The National Union of Students (NUS) and the government welcomed the review.
Though not legally binding, universities often rely on the so-called Zellick guidelines when dealing with allegations of sexual violence or harassment between students. They have been criticised for causing universities to leave investigation of complaints to the police rather than investigating them themselves.
The guidelines’ author, Prof Graham Zellick, has said they are still valid, but that they only cover discipline, and not other requirements such as a system of recording sexual assaults.
But BBC education editor Branwen Jeffreys said there had been increasing pressure for action from campaigners who accuse universities of being “more concerned with reputation than supporting students”.
The Universities UK taskforce said “significant elements” the Zellick guidelines were still useful to universities.
But it said developments including the Equality Act 2010 and “changes in the wider social environment, including the significant impact of social media” meant guidelines should be reviewed and updated.
The taskforce will produce a final report on violence, harassment and hate crime later this year.
NUS women’s officer Susuana Amoah said: “We hope this review will lead to the creation of a new set of guidelines centring around the welfare of survivors rather than institutional reputation.”
Sarah Green, of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, welcomed the recognition that “it is time for universities to change the way they respond to allegations of rape and other abuse and harassment”.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills welcomed the “progress” the taskforce had made and said it looked forward to seeing the final report.
QotD: “Universities ‘should update sex crime guidelines'”