All colleges have told Higher Education Minister Simon Harris they do not use controversial non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to deal with sexual harassment and bullying complaints, despite concerns the practice is prevalent in the third-level sector.
It comes as a new online learning hub on sexual consent awareness will be launched early this year to help address harassment in the sector.
Mr Harris wrote to every college president last October condemning the use of NDAs to silence victims of sexual harassment and bullying.
He also asked each university and Institute of Technology to outline if they use NDAs, but he has been assured by all of the colleges they are not using them.
Mr Harris said this is welcome, but conceded the college replies will need to be assessed because they do not tally with claims made against the sector.
Independent Senator Lynn Ruane said research she has carried out shows colleges are using public money to silence victims.
Last year Ms Ruane told the Seanad her work in bringing forward legislation to ban the use of these confidentiality agreements showed 30pc of victims in the third level sector were forced to sign them.
Mr Harris told the Sunday Independent he will take this matter very seriously.
“I welcome the responses from our third-level institutions to my letter. It is important to stress-test the responses as they do not tally with the reports Senator Ruane has given to the Seanad.
“I will continue to work with the Higher Education Authority in ensuring victims of sexual harassment and bullying are protected. Any response from our sector must be victim centred.”
Mr Harris launched a survey last year asking students and staff about “any experience of sexual harassment or sexual violence” they experienced on college campuses, with more than 11,400 responses recorded. Its findings will be published early in the new year, he said, and will “show the percentage of students in our higher education institutions that have experienced sexual harassment and violence is deeply troubling and worryingly, not surprising”.
While Mr Harris said these issues are not confined to or reflective of our third-level sector, it was important to create a zero-tolerance policy for a new generation of future leaders.
“They can be a beacon for change. It is the young men and women of Ireland who have led us to the greatest societal changes we have made,” he added.
The surveys will be done annually to help officials at the Department of Further Education and higher education institutions get a better picture of the challenge and actions necessary.
He said a new online learning hub “to provide an integrated, publicly available resource on sexual consent awareness and consent learning resources” will also be made available early this year.
“Experiences of sexual violence or harassment have a hugely negative impact on the individual, affecting their overall well-being and academic or professional attainment. They have long-lasting effects,” he added.