Up to a third of UK universities have used ‘gagging’ clauses to prevent their students going public with complaints ranging from sexual assault, to poor teaching since 2016, according to research done by BBC.
Students have felt pressured into signing non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), a move which Universities UK, an organisation which represents 136 higher education institutions, have said should not be used to silence students.
A Freedom of Information request by the BBC has found that 300 university NDAs have been used since 2016, and that 45 universities have made pay-outs ranging between £250 and £40,000 per individual.
An investigation by The Guardian in October 2018, revealed that nearly 300 academics had been accused of bullying in a UK university.
Data reveals that not every student who signed an NDA received compensation, but the reasons behind this are unclear.
Victims of sexual assault have been treated the worst at some universities, with one student signing an NDA that stated that, although it would provide limited protection against her attacker, she would be expelled if she talked publicly about her experiences.
Another student, who studied her undergraduate degree at the University of West London, overdosed after being told that there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute another student who had sexually assaulted her.
The student reported that she was offered no support when she returned to her studies, and has evidence that staff actively discouraged other students to reach out to her.
A lawyer who specialises in sexual assault cases has labelled the use of NDAs on students as ‘unethical’, and reassures students that they are unlikely be legally forceable. Universities UK concluded their response to this news by stating that, “every student should feel safe and supported through their time at university and this includes feeling empowered to speak out if they have concerns”.