The release of the Senate Committee report on sexual consent laws is bad for the community standing of universities in general. It is a terrible for their peak body, Universities Australia. And it is a calamity for the credibility of Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency – with demands for an independent review of the regulator.
On universities management of sexual violence: “University students who have experienced sexual violence are being significantly re-traumatised and, in some instances, are unable to continue their higher education, as a consequence of their treatment by their university. The committee cannot over-emphasise how troubled it is by these outcomes, nor over-state how disappointed it is in the university sector’s overall response.
On UA’s performance on consent awareness content: “The committee understands that, from November 2021 to June 2022, Australian universities represented by Universities Australia considered two different campaign proposals: the first comprising four concepts and the second two revised concepts. All six concepts were rejected on the basis that they were ‘unlikely to have the cut-through required to be effective in shifting behaviours.’ Based on the evidence received and commented upon below, the committee does not understand how this view was arrived at by the universities.”
As for TEQSA: “It is a searing indictment of Australia’s university sector and the regulator, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA), that dedicated and courageous advocates for university students who have suffered from sexual violence on campus should hold the view that the process of making complaints and how universities and the regulator deal with such complaints is causing great trauma to the victims of sexual violence. In the strongest terms, this committee says that is a shameful state of affairs. It is unacceptable.”
This is a body blow to the public standing of universities – the messages the community will take from the report is that their leaderships and lobbies appear indifferent to the wellbeing of students who are the victim of sexual violence on campus.
And TEQSA, the supposed safeguard of standards, is perceived to be inert.
It is hard to see how the Government can reject the Committee recommendation for, “an independent review of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency’s response to sexual violence on university campuses.”
The only thing worse than an inquiry would be for it not to occur – which could create an impression the Agency’s reputation needs protection from its own failure.