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Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science | Monitoring and countering bullying in the higher education system

To ask the Minister for Further and Higher Education; Research; Innovation and Science to indicate to which his Department continues to monitor incidents of professional bullying throughout the higher education system; the extent to which bullying is evident in colleges throughout the country; the action taken or being taken to counter this; and if he will make a statement on the matter.


The Deputy will be aware that there are a number of Programme for Government (PfG) commitments aimed at addressing bullying, including a commitment to commission surveys of staff and students in the areas of harassment, sexual harassment, and bullying in higher education.

Our higher education institutions have a duty of to ensure that staff and students have a safe environment to study and work; free from bullying, harassment or other forms of unwanted behaviour. This is not an ‘add-on’ or part of a wish-list. This is an entitlement for everyone who works and studies at our third level institutions.

The Deputy will also be familiar with the ‘Speak Out’ tool which my Department has funded. Speak Out is an online, anonymous reporting tool for staff, students and visitors to higher education institutions that was developed by the Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education Ireland with financial support from my Department, the Department of Education and the Higher Education Authority.

This tool provides a safe space for members of higher education communities to speak out about experiences of bullying, cyberbullying, harassment, discrimination, hate crime, coercive behaviour/control, stalking, assault, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. Users of the tool are provided with tailored information on the support services available to them.

Data on reports made via Speak Out is regularly reviewed at the institutional level. Data from all institutions implementing Speak Out is currently being collated by PCHEI, and once available it will be published alongside a report of the pilot of the tool. PCHEI and the HEA are organising an evaluation of the pilot of the Speak Out Anonymous Reporting Tool initiative which is expected to commence in April 2023.

In August 2022, I launched the findings of a Report on the National Survey of Staff Experiences of Bullying in Irish Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) conducted by the specialist DCU Anti-Bullying Centre. This report presents the findings of an anonymous online survey, commissioned by my department, examining the prevalence and impact of workplace bullying among staff in 20 publicly-funded HEIs in Ireland. The survey of staff experiences of bullying in higher education was conducted in late 2021. A total of 3,835 HEI staff responses were analysed. The survey report includes a number of recommendations, which will inform future policy decisions to tackle workplace bullying within higher education institutions.

On 28th October, 2022 I launched a national survey on student experiences of bullying in the higher education sector. The survey was conducted by researchers at the DCU Anti-Bullying Centre, and it was sent to higher education students in Ireland by their institutions. A report on the findings will be published later this year.

The primary goal of the proposed project is to gain a deeper understanding of the experiences of bullying among higher education students across Ireland. Insights from this study will be used to implement new or updated policies, processes, training and resources to support higher education institutions in addressing these issues.

We currently have an expert Advisory Group on Ending Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment in HEIs in place which is providing advice on appropriate policy responses in this area. The intention is to establish a working group, under the auspices of the HEA’s Centre of Excellence for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, to review the findings of the two bullying surveys and develop actions to achieve our shared goal to develop a more inclusive organisational culture for both staff and students in Irish higher education institutions.

I have been very clear that the tertiary education and training sector must lead the way in changing cultures, behaviours and practices across society to ensure that bullying, sexual violence and harassment are not tolerated. I want to bring about institutional change where all forms of unwanted behaviour are eradicated.

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