Education News

Report into Bullying in Higher Education Launched

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris has launched a report on the findings of the National Survey of Student Experiences of Bullying in Irish Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).

The report, conducted by the DCU Anti-Bullying Centre and commissioned by this Department, presents the findings of an anonymous online survey of 2,573 students.

Some of the survey findings include:

  • Just under a fifth of higher education students (18.4 per cent) endured negative acts (such as bullying online or offline) over the last academic year.
  • Overall, 16.6 per cent of respondents reported experiencing real life negative acts “now and then”, whereas less than 2 per cent (on average) were subjected to these negative acts monthly, weekly and daily.
  • The most commonly experienced type of negative acts experienced “now and then” in offline scenarios were “being gossiped about in real life” (37.5 per cent).
  • In comparison, the most commonly experienced type of negative acts experienced “now and then” in online scenarios were “gossiped about on social media by another student” (11.9 per cent).
  • Overall, minority groups, such as ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ respondents and respondents with a neuro diversity or disability were more likely to endure negative acts at college or university, such as bullying and cyberbullying compared to majority groups (i.e., those who identified as heterosexuals, ethnic majority groups and respondents with no disabilities or no neuro diversity).
  • With respect to witnessing incidents of negative acts, 31.6 per cent of respondents indicated that they had witnessed bullying at their college/university in the past year. 59.1 per cent of those that witnessed bullying reported that they had taken action to help the target
  • On a positive note, 42.4 per cent of survey respondents were aware that their institution had an anti-bullying policy in place and 35.8 per cent “strongly agreed” that bullying is against the values of their college/university.
  • 16.5 per cent “strongly agreed” that their college makes an active effort to tackle bullying (e.g. through awareness raising initiatives and anti-bullying programmes) and only 11.5 per cent of respondents “strongly agreed” that bullying goes unnoticed in my college.

Speaking about the report, Minister Harris said, “as Minister for Further and Higher Education I’ve placed a real focus on ensuring our third level institutions are a safe place for everyone, no matter who you are or where you are from. In doing this, I have asked higher education institutions to answer my calls for change, and they are answering it by applying an evidence-based approach.”

“This survey together with the staff bullying surveys and student and staff surveys of experiences of sexual violence and harassment in higher education, have provided a rich source of evidence which will inform further actions to address these issues and make higher education a safe place for staff and students. This is the most effective way to tackling bullying long term. We live in a society now where bullying is taking place increasingly online and I want to make sure that the third level sector is sufficiently equipped and informed to making every institution a safe place to work and study in. I really want to thank all the students across the country who took the time to engage with this survey and share their experiences of bullying with us.”

This report examines the prevalence and impact of bullying among students in twenty-four publicly funded HEIs across Ireland who were invited to participate.

The survey of student experiences of bullying in higher education was conducted during the first semester of 2022/2023 academic year, as students were returning after remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This report on the findings of the survey will add to the Department’s understanding of issues of bullying and other forms of unwanted behaviour in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).

Dr Mike Goldrick from the DCU Anti-Bullying Centre and National College of Ireland, who led the study, said, “the survey findings provide an insight into bullying-related experiences endured by students within HEIs in Ireland. Providing students and staff with awareness raising initiatives, and development opportunities alongside a continued effort towards a more inclusive learning culture are among the recommendations to further tackle bullying in HEIs.”

Dr Jennie Rothwell, Senior Manager of the HEA Centre of Excellence for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion said, “this report is a valuable addition to the evidence base that higher education institutions can draw from in their work to end bullying and harassment. Reflecting on the findings of the report will support institutions in developing a campus culture that is inclusive and respectful for all.”

The survey report includes a number of recommendations, which will inform future policy decisions to tackle bullying within Higher Education Institutions. These include:

  • Awareness, Education and Training
  • Supports for Faculty
  • Implementing evidence-based support programmes.
  • Supporting targets of bullying and bystanders.
  • Developing and promoting anti-bullying policies in consultation with all Stakeholders.
  • Ongoing research to further explore and monitor the prevalence of bullying in HEIs.
  • Ongoing research to further explore the typologies of negative acts experienced in person and online.

Next steps will include the findings being referred to the EDI Committee of the Higher Education Authority (HEA) for its consideration and suggestions.

They will report back to the HEA’s Centre of Excellence for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and DFHERIS for next steps which will help us to achieve our shared goal to develop a more inclusive organisational culture for both staff and students in Irish higher education institutions.

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