Majority of students want mandatory sexual consent tests before university - survey

29 April 2021, 01:10 | Updated: 29 April 2021, 06:13

Most students think passing a sexual consent assessment should be mandatory before entering university
Most students think passing a sexual consent assessment should be mandatory before entering university. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Most students believe it should be mandatory to pass a sexual consent assessment before entering higher education, a survey has suggested.

A poll of students by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) think tank found that 58 per cent think they should need to pass the assessment before starting their degrees to show they fully understand consent.

More than one in 10 students were not confident on how to communicate consent clearly (11 per cent), or what constitutes sexual assault, sexual violence and sexual harassment (13 per cent).

The study also found that less than one third (30 per cent) said they were very confident about navigating consent after alcohol consumption.

Meanwhile, more than half of those who took part said they think relationships and sex education should be made compulsory during the welcome period.

It comes after nearly 100 UK universities were named on a website where students anonymously shared their experiences of sexual harassment, abuse, assault and misogyny.

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Some of Britain's top institutions were mentioned more than 50 times on the Everyone's Invited website - which has highlighted allegations of a "rape culture" in education settings.

The survey of 1,004 students revealed that just over a quarter thought the education they received prior to university prepared them for the reality of sex and relationships in higher education.

More than a third (35 per cent) said they have "learned more about sex from pornography than from formal education".

Earlier this month, England's higher education regulator called on universities and colleges to take urgent action and do more to tackle sexual misconduct and harassment affecting students.

The Office for Students (OfS) has published its "statement of expectations" - which outlines that training should be made available for all staff and students, which could cover bystander initiatives, consent and handling disclosures, to raise awareness of harassment and sexual misconduct.

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Nick Hillman, director of Hepi and author of the report, said: "It is vital to build a better understanding of how students live today, including during the Covid disruption, if they are to have the right support.

"Our robust polling provides the most comprehensive, accurate and useful summary of the sex lives and relationships of students in the UK that has been published for many years.

"By telling students about the experiences of their peers, we hope the results will make it easier for them to make informed decisions about their own lives."

The survey also found that two in five female students say their periods may have hindered them in assignments and 35 per cent say they have missed an academic appointment due to their period.

Mr Hillman added: "More generally, the results show students enter university with a range of different experiences and differences continue throughout their time in higher education.

"Much of our polling paints a positive picture but some elements of the results suggest - if the resources are available - that schools, universities and policymakers could all do more to help students navigate what is a key transition point in their lives."

Helen Marshall, chief executive of Brook, a charity that works with young people to promote their sexual health, said: "While some of the findings are encouraging, much more still needs to be done to support students at university, many of whom will be away from home for the first time.

"Young people are sadly entering higher education feeling unprepared for the reality of sex and relationships, and there is clear demand from students themselves for greater education around consent."

She added: "Brook already delivers consent training in several universities and we want to encourage more institutions to improve their support services, empowering students to confidently manage their own sexual health, relationships and wellbeing."

Soma Sara, founder of the Everyone's Invited website, said: "Everyone's Invited welcomes the attention that this survey brings to the issue of rape culture in universities and we are encouraged that tangible actions for change are being explored."