1. Positive professional relationships between members of staff and students are central to students’ educational development and welfare. However, intimate or close personal relationships between students and staff who have responsibility for them can cause significant problems because of conflicts of interest, imbalance of power and authority, perceived favouritism, and undermining of trust and confidence in the academic process. Being a member of University staff brings with it certain duties and responsibilities. If a staff member behaves in an unprofessional way towards a student it may have negative consequences for student welfare, and may cause risk to both the staff member themselves and the wider University. This policy concerns consensual relationships - non-consensual behaviour is covered at Annex 7 and in the University’s harassment policy.
2. To protect the welfare of students, and in the best interests of staff, the University:
a) Prohibits staff from entering into an intimate relationship with a student for whom they have any responsibility; and
b) Strongly discourages any other close personal relationship between a staff member and student for whom they have any responsibility that transgresses the boundaries of professional conduct, and requires such relationships to be declared
3. Terms used in paragraph 2, and throughout this policy, are defined in the 'definitions' section below.
4. Staff who fail to comply with this policy, or with any arrangements put in place under it (including those made following a declaration of a relationship defined under paragraph 2(b)) may be disciplined.
5. This policy comes into force on 17 April 2023 (the ‘policy commencement date’).
6. With effect from the policy commencement date members of staff:
a) Are prohibited from having an intimate relationship with any student for whom they have any responsibility; and
b) Must declare to their Head of Department or Chair of the Faculty Board as soon as possible if a close personal relationship has developed, is developing or appears likely to develop between them and any student for whom they have any responsibility.
7. With effect from the policy commencement date members of staff must not take on or assume responsibility for a student:
a) With whom they are in an existing intimate relationship or with whom they previously had such a relationship; or
b) With whom they are in an existing close personal relationship or with whom they previously had such a relationship without first declaring this to their Head of Department or Chair of the Faculty Board, to enable them to assess the risk of conflicts of interest and put appropriate protective measures in place if necessary.
8. Where, at the policy commencement date, a staff member:
a) Is already in a close personal or intimate relationship with a student for whom they have responsibility; or
b) Has previously been in a close personal or intimate relationship with a student for whom they have responsibility:
they should declare that relationship to the Head of Department/Chair of the Faculty Board within two months immediately following the policy commencement date, even if the responsibility for the student has ended.
9. If a member of staff is in an intimate or close personal relationship with a student for whom they do not currently have any form of responsibility, but where there is a reasonable risk that conflicts might arise in future (eg the student is in the same Department, even if currently working in a different research group or academic area) they should disclose the relationship to their Head of Department/Chair of the Faculty Board to assess the risk of any conflict of interest arising and put appropriate protective measures in place if necessary.
10. Paragraph 2, and the disclosure obligations in paragraphs 6 to 9, apply even if the staff member’s responsibility for the student arose, arises or will arise solely in a college context (eg under a separate college contract of employment). While colleges set their own internal policies, where a college staff member is also a member of University staff the University may put protective measures in place, or may take disciplinary action under the staff member’s contract with the University, even if responsibility for the student arises solely in a college context. Where a University staff member is also a college employee, associate, fellow, or member or has any appointment at a college, the University will share such information with the college about relationships covered by this policy as is appropriate and necessary and has an expectation the colleges will do likewise. This is to protect student welfare and ensure high standards of academic integrity and professional behaviour. Further guidance on sharing information can be found in Annex 4.
11. In the rare circumstances where this policy is breached unintentionally, for example where a staff member is unaware the other party is a student, and had no reasonable basis to suspect it, the staff member should inform the Head of Department/Chair of the Faculty Board as soon as they become aware of the situation.
12. Members of staff who have responsibility for any students must never enter into an intimate relationship with a student or any other person under eighteen years of age or with a student who is an adult at risk, irrespective of whether the member of staff has any responsibility for the student or other person. Staff are reminded that intimate relationships involving students (including applicants or offer-holders) under the age of eighteen where the staff member is in a position of trust or where the student is an adult at risk suffering from certain mental disabilities could fall within the scope of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. If any such cases arise the University Safeguarding Officers will consider whether to notify the police, in addition to taking disciplinary action.
13. Even in cases which are not covered by this policy, ie where a staff member does not have and is not likely to have responsibility for a student, staff are strongly encouraged to be cautious before embarking on an intimate or close personal relationship with any student. Such relationships can run into difficulties and give rise to formal complaints or concerns rooted in real or perceived inequalities of power, accusations of bias or exploitation and questions about the nature of consent. The risks of such complaints or concerns are likely to be heightened where there is a big age difference between the staff member and the student; the student is undertaking their first degree following leaving school; and/or the student is more vulnerable because of certain disabilities or health conditions.
14. Guidance on the following matters is given in the Annexes below.