Action Plan Addressing Gender-based Violence in Higher Education

On 23 February 2024, Education Ministers agreed to the Action Plan Addressing Gender-based Violence in Higher Education (the Action Plan).

The Action Plan recognises the unique role that higher education providers can and must play in driving the broader social change needed to address gender-based violence, as well as the distinct responsibilities they hold in relation to creating safe study, work, social and living environments.

The Action Plan Addressing Gender-based Violence in Higher Education

The Action Plan Addressing Gender-based Violence in Higher Education is a multi-pronged approach to create higher education communities free from gender-based violence through 7 actions:

  1. establish a National Student Ombudsman
  2. higher education providers will embed a whole‑of‑organisation approach to prevent and respond to gender-based violence
  3. introduce a National Higher Education Code to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence
  4. enhance the oversight and accountability of student accommodation providers
  5. identify opportunities to ensure legislation, regulation and policies can prioritise victim-survivor safety
  6. increase data transparency and scrutiny
  7. regular review of progress against the Action Plan.

Education Ministers have agreed to an Action Plan Addressing Gender-based Violence in Higher Education.

A draft of the Action Plan was released for public consultation on 22 November 2023 and closed on 31 January 2024.

National Student Ombudsman

Working closely with state and territory governments, the Australian Government will establish a National Student Ombudsman to provide an effective, trauma‑informed complaints mechanism for higher education students to use when they are not satisfied by their higher education provider’s response.

The National Student Ombudsman will be established within the Commonwealth Ombudsman, and will:

  • receive and investigate student complaints about the administrative actions of their higher education providers
  • make recommendations to a provider about the administrative steps that should be taken to resolve a complaint
  • offer a restorative engagement process between student and provider where appropriate
  • work with regulators in the sector to identify and respond to systemic issues
  • promote best practice complaints handling across the higher education sector.

The National Student Ombudsman will be able to investigate complaints about a range of issues, such as:

  • student safety and welfare, including gender-based violence
  • course administration, such as timeliness and accuracy of information provided to students
  • teaching provision and facilities, such as sufficiency of staffing to meet educational, academic and administrative needs of students
  • disciplinary processes, such as procedures to address misconduct
  • reasonable adjustments for students with disability or experiencing special circumstances.

National Higher Education Code to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence

The Australian Government will introduce a National Higher Education Code to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence (‘National Code’).

The National Code will fill identified gaps in the currently regulatory architecture for student and staff safety by establishing best practice standards that all providers must meet. It will ensure transparency and accountability and centre the voices and needs of victim-survivors.

The Code will apply to all higher education providers registered by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency.

It will cover standards related to the prevention of and response to gender-based violence across a providers’ community, including staff and students.

Student accommodation providers operated by a higher education provider must comply with relevant sections of the National Code as part of that provider’s whole-of-organisation approach.

The National Code will be implemented by a new expert unit in the Department of Education.

This new unit will conduct targeted compliance; support providers by sharing best practice across the sector; and gather new and better data on gender-based violence in higher education.