UNIVERSITIES across Scotland have pledged to radically overhaul their approach to dealing with gender-based violence on campus as new funding guidance, due to be announced, seeks to ensure all students are safe from sexual harassment and abuse on campus.

With thousands of students due to go back for a new academic term this month – and freshers’ week kicking off on several campuses including Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities next week – universities told the Sunday National they were now tackling the issue with a raft of new measures.

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Following the prominent #MeToo campaign last year, the issue of sexual violence on campus was highlighted with many campaigns driven by students fed up of what some claimed was “a culture of silence”.

A recent survey of almost 2000 students by NUS Scotland found four in 10 had experienced unwelcome advances and assault by staff and students, including sexualised comments, inappropriate touching and rape. Despite this some universities do not record incidents reported to them by students.

Yet this month many will find visible on campus awareness raising campaigns on gender-based violence – many of them student-led and some with tongue-in-cheek messages such as one from the Dundee University Students Association featuring cactus imagery and the tagline “don’t be a pr*ck”.

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Student and parent briefings and training sessions are being offered by a number of universities and will include workshops on understanding consent and bystander sessions. Some have appointed, and trained, staff to be gender-based violence “champions”. Others will provide cards to all detailing helpline numbers.

Robert Gordon University said it was introducing new software to record incidents, while the University of Dundee said it was streamlining and increasing signposting to ways for students to report gender-based violence incidents. Some, including the University of Edinburgh, said it is already satisfied that it recorded incidents. However several institutions, including Glasgow Caledonian University and the University of Highlands and Islands, admitted they did not yet record incidents disclosed to its first responders. Others failed to respond directly to the question.

The revelation came despite the fact that the Scottish Government wrote to the Scottish Funding Council in April to make clear that they must adopt the Equally Safe in Higher Education toolkit, developed by Strathclyde University along with violence against women organisations and Police Scotland earlier this year.

Campaigner Fiona Drouet, whose daughter Emily, a student at the University of Aberdeen, took her own life after being subjected to a campaign of abuse from her boyfriend, also worked on the toolkit. It makes clear that all universities must record all incidences and offer specialist support to students affected.

Drouet said that many universities were waiting for guidelines from the Scottish Funding Council on the issue, which it is understood will be issued in the coming weeks and are likely to compel universities to carry out comprehensive data collection on gender-based violence as part of their funding stipulations. It is thought guidance will also highlight the need for staff training and student support on campus. Universities Scotland said that the issue had buy-in from all 19 of its university principles.

“I feel very passionate about this and so it is fantastic to see how the work we’ve done on this is making a difference,” said Drouet, who set up the #Emilytest campaign after her daughter’s death. “The pace and momentum on this has been really positive. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel and that’s why the toolkit is so good because it is evidence based.”

Yet while praising the Scottish Government for its commitment, she admitted university responses still varied wildly. She stressed it was important for universities to have a clear statutory duty to adopt the toolkit, in order to keep all their students safe.

“This was the very last thing we expected to happen when our daughter went to university,” she added. “We talked to her about the risk of getting her drink spiked, about the importance of safe sex. But how could we ever have known something like this would happen?”

The family believe that University of Aberdeen failed to do a proper risk assessment after Emily spoke to staff but said she didn’t want to take further action. The university says it is satisfied it followed procedure.

Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said work to address gender-based violence was now a “priority” for Scotland’s universities, adding: “It is really important that every student starting or returning to university knows that there is support available to them.

“Universities want to provide a safe and respectful place in which to study, work and to live and whilst we still have some way to go to achieve that for every student or member of staff, there is a lot of momentum behind getting there.”

Lauren O’Rouke, training and education co-ordinator for Further and Higher Education at Rape Crisis Scotland, agreed that while progress was now being made, culture change would take longer. “I think we can’t underestimate the grassroots work that’s been done by students on this issue, and I think that’s really influenced university staff to take the issue seriously,” she added.

Yet she claimed there was a clear need for additional support to be on hand. When a worker from Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis recently started working on Strathclyde University campus one day a week, she quickly realised that she would need to double the time commitment due to demand.

Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, said she especially welcomed initiatives that train all relevant staff on gender, domestic abuse and positive interventions. “Just like everyone, students deserve to be and feel safe – in their homes, in their places of study and in public spaces, and educational institutions have a responsibility and a duty of care to ensure that safety,” she added.

A spokesman for the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) confirmed it was working with the Equally Safe Working Group, Colleges Scotland and Universities Scotland to draft new guidance for institutions on addressing and preventing any gender-based violence.

“Once this guidance has been finalised and published, we will be asking colleges and universities to apply it by assessing their policies and practices with staff and students, as part of the annual outcome agreement process between SFC and each institution,” he added.

Education Minister Richard Lochhead confirmed the SFC had provided additional funding of almost £400,000 to help universities implement the toolkit and would continue to work closely with the sector.