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Use of 'gagging orders' at UK universities exposed

NON-DISCLOSURE AGREEMENTS: Universities have been accused of using measures to prevent staff complaints from being made public

UNIVERSITIES IN the UK have spent almost £90 million on payoffs to staff that had gagging orders attached, new figures reveal.

The settlements, of which around 4,000 have been agreed since 2017, are understood relate to complaints of bullying, discrimination and sexual misconduct.

The data, which was obtained by the BBC, has sparked accusations of cover up attempts by institutions that did not want sexual misconduct allegations to reach the public domain.

Academics told BBC News that they were “harassed” out of their roles and made to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) after they made complaints.

Responding to the reports on the use of NDAs by universities, Universities UK, an organisation which represents higher education institutions and their collective interests, said: “Universities use non-disclosure agreements for many purposes, including the protection of commercially sensitive information related to university research. However, we also expect senior leaders to make it clear that the use of confidentiality clauses to prevent victims from speaking out will not be tolerated.”

The organisation plans to publish comprehensive guidance, which will the use of confidentiality clauses, for universities on sexual misconduct later this year.

Anahid Kassabian, a former music professor at the University of Liverpool, told BBC News that she felt she was treated as though she was a “burden” and “bullied out” of the role did for 10 years after she was diagnosed with cancer.

She broke the terms of her NDA because she said she wants others to know they are “not alone”.

The BBC has viewed documents that suggest the University of Liverpool believed it did all it could to assist Kassabian and the institution has denied her claims.

It told the BBC News: "We refute these allegations in the strongest possible terms. Ms Kassabian was not subject to discrimination or bullying and the university did not fail to make reasonable adjustments.

"Settlement agreements with a standard confidentiality clause are used for a range of cases including conduct, capability and redundancy. As we too are bound by confidentiality, we are unable to provide specifics in relation to her case."

The BBC used freedom of information requests to gather information on 96 universities, which revealed that £87 million was spent on settlement agreements where NDAs were a component since 2017.

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