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University of Oxford bans intimate relationships between staff and students

The University of Oxford in the UK has prohibited all staff from engaging in intimate relationships — or any other type of personal relationship that “transgresses the boundaries of professional conduct” — with undergraduate and graduate students. The new rules came into effect on April 17 and cover all staff responsible for admissions, teaching, guidance, or supervision. In addition to staff and faculty, the ban also applies to anyone providing services to the institution, including visiting researchers, occasional collaborators, and graduate students working as tutors or mentors.

These relationships were previously discouraged, but not prohibited — staff members were required, however, to notify their superiors of any such relationships. Employees who fail to comply with the new policy will be subject to disciplinary procedures. In the case of existing staff-student relationships, the university reported that the focus will be on “avoiding conflicts of interest,” ensuring that the employee is not in a position of responsibility or superiority over the student. At the beginning of the year, the university leadership was criticized by students after it was revealed that staff members accused of sexual harassment were still working at the institution. Data obtained by the newspaper The Oxford Student showed that between 2017 and 2021, 12 employees were accused of sexual misconduct. Five of the complaints were upheld, three of which resulted in mere warnings and one of which led to the accused being placed on leave and subsequently fired.

Oxford now joins several other British institutions that have banned relationships between staff and students, including the University of York, the University of Nottingham, and University College London. The measure is stricter than the proposal submitted for public consultation in May by the Office for Students (OfS), the independent body that regulates higher education in the United Kingdom. The text suggested that universities in the UK create and maintain records of all close relationships between faculty and staff, with the aim of discouraging the behavior. Higher education institutions around the world have been moving to limit this type of relationship for some time now. In 2018, Australia adopted a nationwide policy stating that sexual or romantic relationships between academic supervisors and students are “never appropriate.” Similarly, Canadian universities, including the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, have prohibited intimate relationships between faculty and staff since 2020.