Widespread bullying in higher education revealed by new research

According to a new survey, 9 percent of students have been bullied by their peers.

A new research project, led by professor Ingrid Lund at the University of Agder, shows nearly one out of ten students have been bullied at school. Altogether, 3,254 students at three universities and two colleges were surveyed.

The survey was based on what students self-reported about their experiences. The clearest conclusion was that bullying happens both during and after classes.

«Students are being excluded from the social aspects of their environment after lectures,» said Lund.

Were you surprised by your findings?

«Yes. I didn’t think it would be this high. Seeing that nearly one out of ten students in the survey had experienced bullying was surprising, but it does match the international findings.»

Worse than elementary school

The numbers show bullying is more widespread in higher education than in elementary school. A survey of younger students in 2016 showed 6.3 percent had been bullied.

Lund pointed out the survey does not differentiate between educational institutions. However, she added, «I can say there are small differences between the universities, and that surprised me.»

Systemic change needed

The survey showed psychological bullying was the most common form, followed by verbal bullying. Lund said psychological bullying is not necessarily more difficult to catch.

«It has to do with the basic attitudes students have toward each other, and also the way they relate to their teachers,» Lund said. «It’s about watching and intervening when someone is on the outside…facilitating good group dynamics, and advising or supporting when things aren’t working. This is both the students’ and employees’ responsibility.»

Do you have any advice for universities?

«Yes. They need to establish committees with a greater focus on the psychological aspect of students’ learning environment,» Lund said. «There needs to be a system of preventative measures to both stop and prevent bullying.»