Dignity in study: Arts students at risk of discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment, finds Equity, ISM and the Musicians’ Union

  • Joint research between Equity, ISM and MU find high levels of bullying and sexual harassment and other inappropriate behaviours, across higher education institutions, including specialist colleges and universities
  • Students call for higher education institutions to ‘take issues of this nature seriously’
  • Survey invited current drama, dance and music students to offer their suggestions as to how to improve the environment in their higher education institution and to share their personal experiences on an anonymous basis

Joint research by Equity, ISM and Musicians’ Union reveal one in two students are at risk from bullying and discrimination including sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour.

Out of the 600 students who responded to the survey, over half of students said they had experienced some sort of incident – many more than one type - in the course of their study, with over 50% choosing not to report their concerns despite a high awareness of processes and procedures in place. Lack of anonymity and protection for students who report, collusion between lecturers, favouritism and bias and cultural issues within higher education institutions were cited as reasons not to report, amongst several others. The research revealed the gap between the aspiration of the policies and procedures put in place by higher education institutions and the reality of the student experience. Comments from students included ‘so much of what happens is brushed under the carpet’, policies in place are ‘just tick box exercises’ and that ‘heads of departments need to deal with issues rather than ignore them’.

Christine Payne, General Secretary of Equity said:

'Equity, alongside the ISM and the Musicians' Union, is committed to making meaningful change and empowering our student members. We have heard from our members regarding experiences of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour in their work. This includes student members, who have raised concerns with us about issues relating to the culture within higher education institutions and a lack of awareness around the policies and procedures in place.

Although many higher education institutions are doing good work to ensure the safety of their students, it is clear there are several issues that must be addressed and taken seriously. This report clearly demonstrates a culture of fear that is preventing students from reporting abuse. This is unacceptable and our solutions, as set out in the report, must be considered.'

Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians said:

‘Today’s music, drama and dance students are the future artists in our theatres, concert halls and dance productions. Whether they are preparing for a life on screen, on stage, behind the curtain or in the recording studio, ensuring our students have the very best start to their career in the arts is paramount.

We know from our report Dignity at Work that there is a culture in the music sector that needs addressing. At the request of our student members, we extended our research to cover current students and what they felt needed to happen to ensure their time in higher education is positive.

This report provides higher education institutions with an opportunity to close the gap between aspiration and reality. Whilst there is no doubt that higher education institutions have done lots of work to ensure safe spaces in education, more work needs to be done so that all students feel comfortable in raising their concerns. This is important not just for the institution concerned but also the wider profession. We need to ensure that good working practices start in our higher education institutions to feed through to the generation of musicians and actors and dancers to come.’

Naomi Pohl, Assistant General Secretary of the Musicians’ Union said:

‘The Musicians' Union is committed to tackling harassment, bullying and discrimination wherever it occurs in the music industry, including within educational establishments.

‘The Union has a dedicated email account – [email protected] – to provide a safe space for all workers in the entertainment industries to share instances of sexism, sexual harassment and sexual abuse in particular. We've received many reports, including some that highlight ongoing issues in colleges, conservatoires and universities. We want to make it clear that we are here to support students as well as professionals and that we want to effect a positive culture change in arts education as well as in workplaces.

‘Our research demonstrates that a number of students are dealing with inappropriate behaviour from fellow students and staff who hold a position of power over them. In some cases, we're told that complaints from students have been ignored or mishandled. Within the report, we make several recommendations which we hope will be considered.’

About the ISM

The Incorporated Society of Musicians is the UK’s professional body for musicians and a nationally-recognised subject association for music. We were set up in 1882 to promote the art of music and to protect the interests of all musicians. Today we support over 8,500 members with specialist and tailored services and expert advice, from study up until retirement and beyond.

About Equity

Equity is the UK trade union for professional performers and creative practitioners. As a leading industry organisation, Equity is known and respected nationally and internationally for the work we do with, and on behalf of, our members working across all areas of the entertainment industry.

We are a campaigning and organising union and proud of our strong record of taking the things that matter to our members to parliament and other centres of influence. Being part of Equity gives members a voice in these places. Members are at the heart of all the union’s activities and by getting involved they drive forward the work of the union.

About the Musicians’ Union

Established in 1893, the MU represents over 30,000 musicians working in all sectors and genres of music. As well as negotiating on behalf of its members with all the major employers of musicians in the UK, the MU offers a range of services tailored for the self-employed such as legal advice and assistance, unpaid fee recovery, template contracts and specialist insurances.


Dignity in study report