Universities are being put under pressure to tackle “lad culture” by National Union of Students (NUS) president Toni Pearce, following a survey of 2,156 students recently undertaken by the NUS which shows a prevalence of harassment and sexism on campuses nationwide.

The survey indicates that a great deal of sexual harassment is taking place at universities, with women enduring far more than men. More direct sexism and the inability of people in universities to take sexual assault seriously have also been reported. 37% of women and 12% of men who took part said they had experienced unwanted groping and touching, and 36% of women and 16% of men said they had experienced unwanted sexual comments about their bodies. Two-thirds of students reported seeing other students sexually harassed; the same number had heard rape and sexual assault jokes on campus, and a third said they had seen gender-based verbal harassment take place.

The survey also suggested that there is a lack of awareness about how to deal with sexual harassment; 60% of students said they were unaware of any codes of conduct at their university or student union which could help them report perpetrators and get support.

Pearce (pictured at right) has blamed the sexism and harassment on “lad culture”, which is typified by often competitive binge drinking and casual misogyny. Many students had seen promotional posters for club nights use sexualised images of women, and three quarters said they were aware of websites that endorse this culture, like The Lad Bible and Uni Lad, with many (63% of women, 43% of men) thinking the sites were degrading to women. In response, the NUS has launched a pilot scheme in some unions to assess the impact of “lad culture” and to try and combat it with the involvement of Pearce, as well as Laura Bates of the organisation Everyday Sexism. Pearce has also stressed that universities cannot continue with the “passing the buck approach” and instead “must acknowledge the problems and join us in confronting them”.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, praised the research for helping increase understanding of the issue, but also said that there were services for students affected and that it was “an issue for society generally, not just one confined to university students”.