At the launch of the ‘University of Leicester Student Sex Worker Policy and Toolkit,’ Professor Teela Sanders, the academic leading the project, said:
“We’ve got money from the ESRC to do an outreach programme to higher education organisations and organisations responsible for students for the next 18 months, starting in January. We’re offering free training, free work around the things we’ve done, to take people through it, to get the right people round the table. So please get in contact. It is entirely free and supported under the impact acceleration accounts.” [our emphasis]
This means that she was expecting the funding to run until mid-2022. However, by April 2021 their webpage had been updated with the following text:
“Funded by the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account, this project will run from January 2021 until end of 2023.”
It was cause for grave concern that public money was funding a project that effectively promotes the sex industry, fails to warn students of its dangers, exploitative nature, and well-recognised links with organised crime, and endorses activity that may be illegal and exploitative, and that puts women in particular but also members of other vulnerable groups at risk of serious, and potentially life-long, harm.
However, last week we received an email from Professor Alison Park, the ESRC interim executive chair, saying:
“As you know, Leicester used part of their [ESRC] IAA funding to support the development of the training package that you have flagged. The funding for this activity ended at the end of 2021 and no IAA funding is being used in any further development of the toolkit. Their website provides details about their work and current training offer”
She gave no explanation for why the funding ended so much earlier than stated on the project webpages. We can see that indeed the text saying that the ESRC funding was running to the end of 2023 has now gone from their webpages – also without explanation. (The text was captured in an archive on 22 January and we believe that it was still there well into February.)
The training offered to university staff and students is no longer being offered free of charge and participants must now pay to attend. Furthermore the updated staff toolkit, which we wrote about recently, has also been removed from the project web pages – again with no explanation.
We are responding to Professor Park with a number of further questions. We have also submitted two Freedom of Information requests to the University of Leicester: