Australia's second survey into sexual violence on university campuses will be piloted first at two institutions ahead of its national roll-out next year.
Earlier this month, as they marked two years since the release of the first landmark report by the Australian Human Rights Commission, students warned the next survey had become clouded by secrecy and progress on reform was in danger of being swallowed back up into bureaucracy.
On Friday, Universities Australia revealed the 2020 study would first be "cognitively tested" and then delivered to small samples of students at the Australian National University and Charles Stuart University. This was in line with international best practice, the peak body said, and would help ensure questions still accurately captured sexual harassment and assault experienced by students who had varying understandings of their definitions.
The Social Research Centre, which runs the government's student satisfaction surveys as well as the national survey on attitudes to women, will step in to conduct the study alongside leading violence prevention expert Anastasia Powell from RMIT University.
While the problem of sexual violence on campus had long been known to students calling for action, the 2017 survey revealed its scale for the first time: one in ten female students reported being sexually assaulted in 2016 and more than half said they had been sexually harassed.
Chair of Universities Australia Deborah Terry said the 2020 work would also draw on advice from an accompanying panel of experts and organisations, and consult with survivors and students.
Their well-being would be at the heart of the research, she said, and support would be available for those taking part.
Universities Australia did not specify the project's total funding nor provide detail of how consultations and sample studies will be rolled out, but it is understood both pilot surveys and the national study will be conducted in 2020.
A spokesman for the ANU said they were crucial next steps to reform.
Universities Australia said more than 800 initiatives have now taken shape across Australia's 39 universities to combat sexual violence, but chief executive Catriona Jackson said more work needed to be done.
At the ANU, where a large cohort live on campus, the rate of sexual assault reported to the Human Rights Commission in 2017 was double the national average. The university reacted quickly, setting up a committee to design and implement reforms.
But while some progress has been made - including the formation of a dedicated support unit - the ANU's student associations say action now appears to have stalled.
The unit's manager Sue Webeck said the university has vowed to do better and vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt acknowledged the protests reflected the long road ahead.
"Stopping sexual assault and harassment on our campus is both one of the most important and hardest things we are working on," Professor Schmidt said.
"What we do now must be a change for the better, that stands up for generations to come, and is not just paying the problem lip-service."
Professor Terry also paid tribute to the courage of survivors and their commitment to a world free of sexual violence on Friday.
"We share that vision," she said.
Canberra Rape Crisis Centre: 02 6247 2525.
1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636