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The University of Cambridge voted overwhelmingly in support of changes to its student disciplinary procedure including altering the standard of proof from the criminal standard of proof to the balance of probabilities, it was announced this week.

These changes...allow students to understand better what behaviour is appropriate, but also when people’s behaviour towards them can be called out and reported.

Sarah d’Ambrumenil, Head of the Office for Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals

In a vote of the University's Regent House, 79% approved the new disciplinary framework, which replaces relevant parts of its Statues and Ordinances that govern how complaints against students are handled.

The new framework has also enhanced the clarity and transparency of disciplinary procedures, detailing examples of unacceptable behaviour, which include intimate partner abuse. 

It also incorporates recommendations recently released by the independent body set up to review student complaints, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, such as having student representation on disciplinary committees.

A range of sanctions and measures within the procedure ensure that the University is able to have a rehabilitative approach to misconduct, to give students the skills to understand and reflect on the impact of their behaviour.  The University is working with a small number of specialist organisations to deliver appropriate workshops and sessions.

Sarah d’Ambrumenil, Head of the Office for Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals said: “We launched Breaking the Silence back in 2017, this procedure is the last brick in the wall of strengthening our response work for any misconduct, but particularly for sexual misconduct and other forms of abusive behaviour.

"These changes have increased transparency to allow students to understand better what behaviour is appropriate, but also when people’s behaviour towards them can be called out and reported.

"Throughout our consultations with staff and students on these changes, and developing the procedure, our focus has been on ensuring our environment is safe, welcoming and inclusive.

"However, it has also been on educating people coming into our community on how to behave appropriately both here and when they leave Cambridge."

She added that the change to the standard of proof aimed to ease one of the emotional barriers complainants face when they come forward and report an incident of harassment.

"In practice the vast majority of cases considered by the discipline committee are upheld.

"However, from what complainants have told us about how fair the procedure seems to them, we know that this change will have a significant effect."

The Cambridge University Students' Union said in a statement that it was "thrilled" with the result, particularly the change in the standard of proof which brings the institution into line with best practice across the higher education sector.

"This is an incredibly important change which will ensure that students have access to a disciplinary procedure which is fair, just, and transparent," CUSU added.

Published

09 July 2019

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Senate House, University of Cambridge