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Protect welcomes moral pledge by Higher Education Minister to end NDAs in universities

Victims of sexual harassment in universities should no longer be silenced by Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), under a new pledge backed by the government, universities and campaigners.

Six university vice-chancellors invited to attend the launch have signed up to a pledge promising not to use NDAs in dealing with complaints of sexual misconduct, bullying, and other forms of harassment – as Higher Education Minister Michelle Donelan calls on all universities to sign up.

Minister for Higher and Further Education Michelle Donelan said, “Sexual harassment is horrendous and complainants should never be bought or bullied into silence simply to protect the reputation of their university. Such agreements make it harder for other victims to come forward and help hide perpetrators behind a cloak of anonymity.

“The use of Non-Disclosure Agreements to buy victims’ silence is a far cry from their proper purpose, for example to protect trade secrets. I am determined to see this shabby practice stamped out on our campuses, which is why last year I wrote to vice-chancellors making my position clear.”

The Minister is calling on other Vice Chancellors to back the moral contract with universities who sign up to be listed on #Can’tBuyMySilence’s website.  In July 2021, the Minister wrote to vice chancellors urging them to tackle sexual harassment and abuse on campus, making clear all institutions must have robust procedures in place to deal with complaints and setting out her stance on the use of NDAs.

The Government has already announced plans to bring in new legislation to crack down on the use of NDAs in employment, following a consultation by the Department for Business, Energy, Industry and Skills. Protect responded to this consultation and has long been calling for the reform of NDAs . In 2021 we briefed Maria Miller MP, who has also been campaigning on NDAs.

Protect Parliamentary Officer Rhiannon Plimmer-Craig said,  “We know how damaging a culture of silence can be. Let’s make NDAs something that workers or students can ask for – if they want to settle and move on without their complaint being made public – and let’s make knee-jerk gagging clauses used to silence victims and cover up wrongdoing a thing of the past”.