One-in-seven students have been bullied while at college and a quarter received unwanted sexual attention, research has found.
The study concludes that colleges must do more to help students cope with stress linked to personal and academic issues.
Almost 400 third-level students took part in the online questionnaire, set up by Lian McGuire of Trinity College Dublin’s Anti-Bullying Research Centre and promoted through the Union of Students in Ireland website.
Asked about traditional forms of bullying, 14% said they were victims, and more than one-in-five had witnessed such behaviour, which included verbal bullying.
More than half of affected students said it was exclusionary bullying, which was much higher than rates found in studies at second level, where 9% of bullied students were victims.
Ms McGuire found that 24% of those bullied in a traditional manner — or one in 30 of all students — reported teaching staff were the perpetrators.
While instances of cyberbullying were quite low, affecting 3.5% of college students, Ms McGuire said more indepth study was probably needed rather than deriving that it is uncommon at Irish campuses. Two-thirds of those cyberbullied at college knew the perpetrators, and more than one bully was involved in half the cases.
The numbers bullied at college in Ireland were lower than the 24% in a 2004 US study, but double the 7% of students who told a 2008 UK study they had been bullied. Ms McGuire said much higher numbers of men may have been bullied, based on their responses to questions on specific forms of bullying.
The 24% of students who experienced unwanted sexual attention was four times the rate in a 2001 Irish workplace study.
“Though the increased rate is understandable, given the far more social element of college life, as compared to working life, where college mates would be viewed as prospective partners far more than work colleagues, it would appear that sexual aggression is definitely an issue among students in Ireland,” Ms McGuire wrote.
She reported her findings in the Cork University Press book Bullying in Irish Education, edited by Paul Stevens and Anti-Bullying Research Centre director Mona O’Moore.
Almost two-thirds of participants had no idea if their college had a policy on bullying, which Ms McGuire said highlighted that a poor job was done advertising such policies. Students were more likely to seek help from college authorities about cyber-bullying than other methods, suggesting less faith in their ability to deal with cases with no obvious trail, such as emails, texts or web entries.
“This lack of faith in the college staff and set-up is also apparently reflected in the fact that not one student who had ben bullied, in either form, approached their tutors for help with these issues,” Ms McGuire wrote.
Students affected by negative staff actions:
-34% claimed unfair marking;
-27.5% who brought a problem to a tutor got a hostile reception;
-18% had work ignored by tutors;
-15% were subject to persistent unwarranted criticism of their work.
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