SUMS Consulting, the specialist Higher Education (HE) consultancy, has undertaken an independent evaluation of the initial impact of the Office for Students’ (OfS) statement of expectations for preventing and addressing harassment and sexual misconduct affecting students in HE. The evaluation concludes that while some progress has been made, it is highly variable and recommends that regulatory intervention is required to drive sector-wide improvement.


SUMS’ evaluation highlights the positive impact made by the statement of expectations as a useful intervention in maintaining momentum and focus on this important theme. It uncovered a range of excellent practice examples, including investment in specialist roles to support survivors. The statement of expectations has done much to increase attention on this issue among senior leadership teams and governing bodies, and has driven improvements in policies, systems and processes.

However, SUMS found both strategic and operational inconsistency across the sector, with little standardisation or evaluation of which interventions work best. SUMS makes a wide range of recommendations for the OfS, other sector bodies and individual HE providers to drive improvements. Foremost among these are:

  • The setting of a national-level strategy to set a clear vision and goals and raise awareness across the sector
  • Taking a more holistic approach across different parts of the education sector so that schools, colleges and universities work together more holistically to address behaviours and prevent harassment and sexual misconduct
  • Making prevention and response a mandatory duty and part of the OfS’s regulatory framework
  • Undertaking a national prevalence survey of student experiences of initially sexual misconduct in HE, and later other forms of harassment, to provide a robust evidence base at national and institutional level Fostering the sharing and embedding of good practice to standardise aspects of prevention and response approaches, and creating a national toolkit of ‘what works?’

Susan Lapworth, chief executive of the OfS, said:

“The evaluation reveals that, while progress is being made, self-regulation has not been sufficient to deliver consistent, effective approaches for students across the sector. Students are still not feeling appropriately supported by universities and colleges. This points to the need for a different approach to prevent and tackle harassment and sexual misconduct, which is why we will consult on a new condition of registration next year.

“In the meantime, we encourage all universities and colleges to continue to review and update their approach, drawing on the statement of expectations and the recommendations in the evaluation we have published today.”

Helen Baird, principal consultant at SUMS Consulting and lead evaluator, said:

“While it has made a positive impact and has driven progress across the sector, the statement of expectations has not been a sufficient catalyst for change in its current form and further change is necessary.

“However, there is unlikely to be a single intervention or initiative that is a ‘silver bullet’ that will solve all the issues we have uncovered. Change needs to be multi-layered. Our report recommends that the OfS makes prevention of and response to harassment and sexual misconduct a mandatory duty and part of the regulatory framework.”


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SUMS carried out its research over an eight-month period between March and October 2022. The research methodology included engagement with survivors, students, students’ unions, staff, senior leaders and governors at a wide range of providers using a robust mix of quantitative and qualitative techniques. This included an online survey with a representative sample of 100 universities and colleges registered with the OfS, which had a 68% response rate.

The SUMS evaluation team would like to thank everyone who contributed their time and ideas so generously to the consultation for this evaluation, especially the members of our Expert Group, and all the practitioners and student campaigners working to tackle issues of harassment and sexual misconduct in higher education.

Helen Baird led the independent evaluation of the initial impact of the statement of expectations and is lead author of the report. Helen also led Advance HE’s evaluation of the OfS’ safeguarding students Catalyst Fund projects during 2017-19 and was lead author of the Final Summative Evaluation Report. She also led the study for Universities UK in 2017 and authored the report Changing the Culture: One year on.

Professor Graham Towl, Professor of Psychology at Durham University provided subject matter expertise to the evaluation and is co-author of the evaluation report. He is a widely acknowledged sector expert in the policy context and practical requirements for addressing sexual violence at universities and has written extensively on the topic

About SUMS

SUMS Consulting is a specialist Higher Education consultancy with over 50 years’ experience in conducting strategic and large-scale reviews and projects within the sector. We are a not-for-profit charity and membership organisation providing expert consultancy and procurement support to the FE and HE Sectors, both in the UK and globally. Through our three divisions – SUMS Consulting, Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium (SUPC) and the Procurement Shared Service (PSS) – we support ambitious universities and sector bodies to achieve their goals.

About the Office for Students

The OfS is the independent regulator of Higher Education in England. It aims to ensure that every student, whatever their background, has a fulfilling experience of Higher Education that enriches their lives and careers. OfS’s work covers all students whether undergraduate or postgraduate, national or international, young or mature, full-time or part-time, studying on a campus or by distance learning. For more information, visit

For any enquiries, please contact:

Jo England, SUMS Marketing Manager +44 118 378 4292

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