New resources for keeping universities safer online

Universities conducting their teaching and other functions online during COVID-19 will be able to do so more safely from today with the Toolkit for Universities, a collaboration between eSafety and Universities Australia.

The Toolkit includes 14 individual resources and covers a range of topics for students, academics and institutions, including: Online Safety 101; tips for supporting staff wellbeing; guides for responding to cyber abuse; and supporting students and staff using online platforms, including videoconferencing.

“The online safety of staff and students is more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant. “The Toolkit is our first step towards empowering university communities to be well-informed and proactive on online safety – both during COVID-19 and after it.”

“Australia’s 1.4 million university students are studying online, many of them using new platforms for the first time. Students and staff have adapted with incredible speed and skill but we know more people online means more risk,” says Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson. “This Toolkit equips them with essential knowledge about staying safe online.”

Over 35 per cent of reports of image-based abuse made to eSafety relate to young adults in the 18-24 age-group – a group that comprises about 60 per cent of all enrolments at Australian universities. Compared to the monthly average last calendar year, we have seen an increase in image-based abuse complaints of more than 200 per cent over the COVID-19 period of March and April 2020.

Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, the Hon Paul Fletcher MP, said COVID-19 has affected the way we all live, work and study, with many businesses and organisations around Australia, including universities, going completely digital in a matter of weeks.

“Online learning is a reality for university students,” he said. “This new eSafety toolkit will help Australian universities continue to deliver their first class educational services during COVID-19, while keeping both the physical and online safety of their staff and students front of mind. Establishing safe online practices now will also position Australia’s universities to benefit from this rapid digitisation to enable flexible and distance learning into the future.”

Minister for Education Dan Tehan said everyone had a responsibility to take steps to protect themselves online.

“Cyber safety must become second nature to all Australians and we all should follow the simple steps to keep ourselves safe online,” he said. “The Toolkit for Universities provides practical advice keep students safe as they embark on their tertiary studies.”

In addition to the Toolkit, eSafety already offers online safety training to students who are pre-service teachers, as well as university staff. This training is continuing in the form of webinars during COVID-19.

Universities Australia and eSafety have been working together for a year to increase awareness of online safety in universities. The Toolkit is a pragmatic way to reach as many in the university sector as possible about the importance of online safety. Both organisations will continue to collaborate on ways of making university communities safer online.

The Toolkit is available here.

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