We are a group of academics and professional services support staff at UK universities.

Bullying in academic life is not always obvious. It often takes more subtle forms, such as deliberate career obstruction, belittlement, exclusion from necessary resources and opportunities, or unfair workload allocation. Often, victims of bullying are not aware at first, and only gradually notice a pattern of mistreatment, malicious intent, and failure to address concerns.

Bullying may also be blatant, public and prolonged. Despite the seeming encouragement of active by-standing by universities, few academics do intervene (this is prudent, as universities offer no support for whistleblowers). So, bullying and victimisation can take place in full view of many others in a department. We know of examples in which entire departments have stayed silent, despite being aware of very serious bullying.

However and whenever it occurs, bullying derives from power imbalances. The most common form of bullying in the workplace is by immediate supervisors, line-managers, senior academic staff and heads of department.

The 21 Group provides advice and support for those experiencing bullying in academia in the UK. We campaign against the complaisant acceptance of bullying by university administrators, driving change nationally through publicity, reports, press releases, consultancy work and speeches.

What is bullying?

Bullying is behaviour by an individual or group, repeated over time, that is intended to hurt another individual or group either physically or emotionally. In universities, bullying operates vertically. The victims are usually postgraduate students, professional services staff, postdoctoral researchers and junior faculty. The bullies are often other senior academics or management.

Employers have a duty of care for all their employees to prevent bullying and harassment. They also have responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) for the welfare of employees. This includes doing everything they reasonably can to protect employees from discrimination and bullying at work.

In addition, by law (Equality Act 2010), bullying behaviour can constitute the legal offence of harassment if it relates to any of the following ‘protected characteristics’:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

Can I help?

We are full-time academics and professional services support staff who want to change the culture in UK Universities. The 21 Group relies on people doing this work on top of the day job. We are very happy to receive offers of support.

If you wish to see the staff environment in UK universities change for the better, please consider helping our campaigns. Our current campaigns are (i) the production of a national survey on bullying and harassment in UK universities and (ii) the reform of the grievance procedures of UK universities by the creation of an independent Ombudsman. We are keen to receive statistical data on the incidence of bullying at UK universities and academic departments.

Bullying is a pernicious, persistent and widespread problem across departments in all UK universities. The 21 Group operates nationally. We welcome volunteers from all UK universities. Please do contact us at help@21percent.org , if you feel you can help.

The UNESCO declaration (1997) on academic freedom gives any academic an absolute right to criticise the operation of their own or any other university (Section B 31).

Together, we can change UK universities for the better.