A code of good practice: Relationships between staff and students

DATE OF APPROVAL: 22 April 1994, AB Resolution 94/3/70

AMENDMENTS: Registrar - August 1998 Registrar - January 2001; Registrar - April 2001


CROSS-REFERENCES: Code of Good Practice: University Teaching
Code of Good Practice: Research Degree Supervision
Equal Opportunity Policy (C2)
Sexual Harassment Policy (C12)




  1. The University, in its Codes of Good Practice: University Teaching and Research Degrees Management and Supervision, recognises a special responsibility to foster and preserve the scholarly values of curiosity, experimentation, critical appraisal and integrity and to foster these values in its students. A central component of this responsibility involves creating and managing quality teaching and learning environments for all students.
  2. Vital to the achievement of these goals is the work of University teaching staff. As professionals, university teachers should exhibit, and help students to develop a commitment to, scholarly values, life-long learning, professional and personal growth through critical reflection and self-evaluation, and responsible and ethical practices in their profession.
  3. The University acknowledges that staff seek to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards in the pursuit of good practice in university teaching. In this context, the University believes it is important that staff avoid situations where family, sexual or other close personal relationships with students could influence academic or professional judgements and decisions as well as the climate in which the learning/teaching process occurs. [‘Family’ here is taken to incorporate the existing range of social and cultural kinship systems.]



  1. For the protection of staff, students and the University and to promote the University's commitment to quality in its teaching and learning environment, the boundaries and obligations of the professional role of staff must be fully recognised and respected. The University regards it as the clear responsibility of staff to ensure that this happens.
  2. The University of South Australia regards as an important professional issue any relationships between staff and students, where there is or is likely to be some specific academic or other professional responsibility for the student. This is particularly so where relationships are with a family member or are closely personal or sexual in nature. Such relationships raise serious questions of conflict of interest, of trust, of confidence and dependency in working relations and of equitable treatment in teaching, learning, selection, assessment and research. A quality learning and teaching environment for all students is a fundamental issue for the University community and can be adversely affected by such relationships.
  3. It is the University's view that the conduct of staff whose duties place them in a position of trust with students, in particular, ought to be based on the following principles:

3.1    That staff recognise their professional and ethical responsibility to protect the interests of students, to avoid conflicts of interest, to respect the trust involved in the staff/student relationship and to accept the constraints and obligations inherent in that responsibility.

3.2    That to embark on a sexual or other close personal relationship with a student is likely to involve serious difficulties arising from the unequal power, and thus unequal choice of the parties concerned, as well as problems in maintaining the boundaries of professional and personal life. Some relationships may disrupt the teaching and learning environment for other students and colleagues.

3.3    That existing relationships with family members or with friends or associates may raise ethical and professional issues, including conflict of interest, in the University environment.



  1. Not only those involved in relationships are affected by them. Fellow students and colleagues as well as the learning and working environment may be affected when conflicts of interest and unfairness are involved. It may provide cause for complaint from other staff and students.
  2. In developing and promulgating this statement of policy, principles and procedures the University's aim is both to safeguard staff members in the performance of their duties and also to secure the interests of students enrolled in academic programs within the University. Emphasis is placed on the ethical responsibility not to abuse power, trust, and access to resources in staff/student relationships, which protects both staff and students and enhances the overall quality of the University's main business, that is, teaching and learning.
  3. Socialising on a friendship basis between staff and students is recognised as part of university life. In particular, postgraduate supervisors who have the responsibility for providing a high level of direct support, academic counselling and encouragement over a number of years will often develop long-term social and professional relationships with their students. However, it is the responsibility of staff members to act professionally at all times, acknowledging the policies and integrity of the University of South Australia.
  4. Personal relationships between staff and students within the teaching and learning environment should be consistent with the University'sCodes of Good Practice: University Teaching and Research Degrees Management and Supervision, and Policies on Equal Opportunity [C-2.2] and Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment [C-12.2]. It is important that members of the University community realise that students who feel their academic progress depends upon consenting to a sexual relationship with a member of staff have the right to complain of sexual harassment.



  1. In the situation where a staff member is currently or recently involved in a sexual or other close personal relationship or is a family member of the student, then the staff member should declare their interest and not take any part in the following relating to that student:

1.1    selection for entry into any undergraduate or postgraduate programs offered by the University,

1.2    assessment procedures,

1.3    selection for any scholarship or prize,

1.4    honours or postgraduate supervision,

1.5    preclusion or disciplinary matters, or

1.6    determining access to resources.

unless these procedures have been appropriately varied with the approval of the relevant Executive Dean or Director of a Research Institute. [When it is the Executive Dean or Director of a Research Institute who is involved in a relationship as set out in this Policy, a declaration should be made to the appropriate senior officer.] Any decisions taken by the Executive Dean or Director of a Research Institute  should be consistent with the intent of the policy and principles.

  1. Arrangements for avoiding the situations set out above should normally be approved by the Executive Dean, Director of a Research Institute, or other appropriate senior officer and will be treated with confidentiality.
  2. Failure to disclose a relationship will not in itself be a matter for disciplinary proceedings. Where the University becomes aware of such a relationship, academic judgements or decisions made with respect to the student and other affected students will be reviewed and may be determined anew.
  3. Staff members likely to be placed in a position where they will be required to undertake selection of, supervision or assessment of the work of a family member or other person with whom they have a sexual or other close personal relationship should declare their interest to the Executive Dean , Director of a Research Institute, or other officer of the University who has been designated as a contact for these matters. Where possible, such a declaration should be made prior to those tasks being undertaken so that alternative arrangements can be made.
  4. Staff are assured that such a declaration will be treated with confidentiality and that they will not be required to give details of the nature of the involvement. This assurance is to ensure that such arrangements do not place either party to the relationship at risk of further disclosure and possible censure. On receipt of the information it then is the duty of the Executive Dean , Director of a Research Institute, (or other designated officer) to facilitate the reorganisation of the staff member's professional duties in order to avoid professional contact with the student concerned.
  5. If for any reason it does not appear feasible to avoid altogether the involvement of the member of staff who is a member of family or involved in a close personal or sexual relationship with the student, the Executive Dean or Director of Research Institute (or other designated officer) shall report to the Provost and Chief Academic Officer the arrangements proposed. such arrangements should have formal approval of the Provost and Chief Academic Officer before they may be implemented and a record of the variation shall be lodged with the Executive Director: People, Talent and Culture.
  6. In the case of the supervision of a postgraduate student, where an alternative arrangement cannot be made with regard to:
  • coursework: a co-supervisor will be appointed.
  • research: the person involved in the relationship shall not be the principal supervisor.
  1. In the case of any placements outside the University required as part of a student’s program, every reasonable effort should be made to comply with the policy.
  2. Students who are or have been involved in sexual or other close personal relationships with staff and who do not consider their involvement consensual will be informed of the right of complaint under the University's Policy on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment.
  3. Requests for clarification of the intent and/or application of the terms of this policy, principles and procedures by staff or students, may be made to the Executive Director: People, Talent and Culture.
  4. Information privacy principles - as set out in the South Australian Government's 'Information Privacy Principles Instruction' (Cabinet Administrative Instruction No.1 of 1989 as amended February 2017) - will be followed in the collection and retention of all personal information required by these procedures.
  5. Wide publicity, discussion and regular review of the content of this statement is encouraged so that members of the University community will understand the issue as one of professional conduct and safeguards and not an invasion of privacy.