UK Universities are using Non Disclosure Agreements and gagging orders to ‘silence’ victims of sexual assault on campus across the country, it has emerged.
Students told the BBC that they felt ‘pressured’ to sign the non-disclosure agreements and it revealed that one was told she would be expelled if she broke her contract, signed under duress.
Almost one third of universities have used Non Disclosure Agreements to deal with student grievances over the past four years, data disclosed by the BBC reveals.
The representative organisation, Universities UK, said that NDAs should not be used to silence students’ right to speech.
Non Disclosure Agreements are usually used to protect business interests, and they are designed to stop the person signing them from sharing private information they are privy too.
According to new research, these contracts have been used to silence complaints of sexual assault, bullying, and poor quality teaching on campus. It is not clear if the sexual assaults are being conducted by staff or students.
They were also used to help settle complaints about the University institutions themselves, including false advertising of courses, lack of disability support and access and further accommodation issues.
The government has commented, stating that it is “unacceptable” to use the NDAs on students in areas including complaints and has currently planned legislation to stop the agreements being misled across the country – beyond student life.
Natasha of CribAdvisor told us:
“Following a dispute with our student letting agent, part of our settlement included an NDA that prevented us from discussing with other students (or anyone else) the issues that had lead to us receiving compensation. It’s obviously in a business’ best interest to prevent word of bad practice or mistake on their behalf from spreading, but we couldn’t believe we were prevented from being able to warn others about our experience,
“Especially as we were not confident that the business would change their practices or prevent the same issue arising with other students we knew, who still let with them. With something as important as who you trust to provide you with housing whilst away from home at uni, we should be free to communicate experiences with one another, good or bad, so we can advise each other and help everyone make the right decision,
“We made the decision as a house to sign the NDA to silence us over our personal dispute with the student letting agent, but we made the decision to create CribAdvisor so that the wider student community could have a place to share their own experiences instead.”
The BBC sent Freedom of Information requests to the vast majority of UK universities asking how many students had signed Non Disclosure Agreements in the past four years – and how much money had been paid out. Almost all of the 136 universities replied. Of these, 46 said that had used NDAs but not all them explained what had happened.
Ultimately, it revealed that 300 students had signed NDAs after complaints over the last four years. The total cost paid out as risen to £1.3m.
The student complaints regulator, Office of the Independent Adjudicator, said that it was “not appropriate” and advised students not to accept the practice.
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