NDAs – The Ticking Time-Bomb for Universities?

Universities ‘gagging sexual assault claims’ according to the BBC

The BBC have today reported that Universities are gagging students to prevent them from disclosing details of sexual assaults, bullying and poor teaching. The report details how several students told the BBC that they felt ‘pressured’ into signing NDA’s (non-disclosure agreements), with one student being told she would be expelled if she broke her contract.

According to Universities UK, a representative body for UK Universities, NDA’s should not be used to silence students. The BBC submitted FOI requests to expose the statistics in the number of NDAs issued by Universities. The BBC report goes on to explain that 300 NDAs have been issued since 2016 in relation to student complaints, most being issued alongside a pay-out to the student.

Widespread misuse of NDAs extends beyond Higher Education, an experience not uncommon in Sport, Health, and Entertainment for example.

In the HE context Intersol Global have long argued that NDAs are potentially being used to hide serious flaws in the investigation procedure, costing Universities more time and money in the long run. Ian Hynes, CEO of Intersol Global added ‘Universities are under more pressure than ever to ensure that the student experience is second to none. However, this should not mean cutting corners when students raise complaints. We have a long-established relationship with a number of HE institutions in the UK and we have demonstrated that our solution not only saves time and money but deals with the complaint without the need for an NDA. We are helping and supporting these universities to ensure that their processes are robust and they are getting to the root causes of the complaint, which means the number of NDAs being issued is reducing for these organisations’

The BBC FOI request was sent to 136 Universities and all but two responded, with varying degrees of transparency owing to data protection concerns or claims of confidentiality. The cost of the 300 NDAs issued since 2016 equates to £1.3 million, or the equivalent of 50 undergraduate degrees. The BBC goes onto report that not all students who filed a complaint received a pay-out – sometimes just an NDA and it is not clear why this is. The student complaints regulator, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, said the use of NDAs was “not appropriate” and advised against the practice.

In addition to the 300 student NDAs since 2016, last year the BBC also sent Freedom of Information requests to 136 UK universities, asking how much they had paid in settlements that included “gagging clauses” to staff.

Analysis of figures from 96 universities responding in full, reveal about £87m spent on about 4,000 settlements in the past two years. Many universities said they were unable to disclose why the agreements were signed, so it is unclear how many relate to allegations of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct.

Intersol are offering a confidential consultation to universities who are keen to ensure that the correct investigation processes are followed in their complaint procedures, for both staff and students. For more information please get in touch