Abuse in higher learning institutions has become endemic in many parts of the world, how we safeguard against it will affect every future generation, says Simba Murondoti.
Institutions of higher learning are supposed to be places where dreams are fulfilled and realised, yet for a large number of vulnerable young people they become a constant reminder of pain and anguish.
The sad yet predictable reality in higher learning institutions is that sexual abuse, discrimination, violence and trauma are common. Students in institutions the world over often have to trade their bodies for better academic grades, better accommodation or better welfare. This has not occurred out of the free will of students but as a result of the self interest of self-seeking office bearers who prey on the innocence and vulnerability of students. This presents the urgent need for safeguarding in institutions of higher learning such as universities, technical and vocational training institutions and post school study programmes.
Safeguarding relates to the process of protecting students from abuse, exploitation, discrimination and victimisation through systems and activities aimed at equipping the student, punishing the offender and protecting the survivor. In its broader sense, it also involves protection of such systems and the individuals that maintain them such as whistle-blowers. Therefore, in its broadest sense, safeguarding relates to a set of processes, activities and systems that ensure that institutions are safer and more secure for students.
As a step towards ensuring safeguarding in tertiary institutions, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Restless Development and the Department for International Development conducted the Wilton Park conference focused on making tertiary education safe to learn. Held at the 16th century majestic Wilton House, the conference brought together experts on tertiary education, civic society representatives, youth delegates from across the world and delegates from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The busy three day conference resulted in the preparation of a draft code of practice which is essentially meant to provide guidelines on best practices to tertiary institutions.
Wilton Park Estate
Given the shocking statistics of abuse, discrimination, exploitation and violence in universities and technical and vocational institutions, there is an urgent need for corrective measures. The enormity of the problem is such that safeguarding is no longer the preserve of a few human rights activists but must be the chief concern of any stakeholder in tertiary education. Students themselves ought to be well acquainted with their rights and to receive adequate training on safeguarding. In addition, there is need for a complete overhaul of hiring practices in tertiary education. . Whilst an individual’s academic accolades are obviously important, the system must also insist on a person’s sensitivity to and appreciation of issues relating to safeguarding.
Whilst the Wilton Park conference demonstrates an ongoing commitment, positive change will only be achieved by involving everyone in the education sector… It is everyone’s responsibility to make sure that tertiary institutions are the safe havens they should be. The place where dreams are realised… Students should no longer endure semesters and terms at the hands of predators whose actions are fueled by self interest. Now is the time to fight against a system so exploitative and so far reaching that it has become the norm. In this urgency, each one of us is confronted with an incisive question.