Editor, IFSEC Global

January 21, 2020

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University safety

Providing safety and security to university students

With no current minimum standards for UK universities on what assistance they should provide for student safety, there is cause for concern over wellbeing and security. Fortunately, a new initiative has been set up in an effort to combat this, reports IFSEC Global.

York studentsWhile the university sector is publicly funded, security provision isn’t currently regulated and there is no agreed national standard that universities must meet. This inevitably results in the quality of provision varying between campuses, with students regularly raising concerns. Reports have made national news, with individuals claiming that any reports that have been made often do not receive follow ups. In one case, a student said that: “security laughed when I reported the assault.”

Students are an ‘at-risk’ group for a number of security, safety and wellbeing issues. It is estimated that a third of the UK’s students become a victim of crime – often involving theft and burglary, and alarmingly, sexual violence on campus.

Such reports are concerning, particularly when one considers the fees that students and their families pay to attend higher education institutions. International students often pay even more and can have higher levels of vulnerability, particularly with language barriers.

The principles of ProtectED

So, how can the ProtectED initiative help? The Code of Practice was researched and developed by academics, Salford University security and K7 Compliance Ltd from 2014 to 2017. Said to be the first national accreditation scheme for student safety, security and wellbeing, it is designed to promote a benchmark for universities to measure their structures, existing processes, areas of improvement and successes – all verified by trained ProtectED assessors.

Ultimately, the initiative now provides a “mark of excellence that will reassure prospective students and parents of the standard of security and support they can expect.” Measures have been informed by the ProtectED team’s research, student surveys, focus groups, as well as representatives from major security industry bodies, including: SIA, AUCSO, IPSA, BSIA, Security Institute, British Council, UHMAN and AMOSSHE.

These assurances are particularly important for international students, many of whom pay significantly more for their education. Decisions can be highly influenced by levels of safety, which is understandable when many are staying away from their country of origin for an elongated period for the first time.

Engaging universities

group of students on campusWith five founder member universities and a number of early adopters, the scheme has seen plenty of growth since 2017. Baroness Ruth Henig has been appointed as ProtectED patron, while there’s been continual promotion to institutions and stakeholders about the benefits of getting involved – both for the university and students in their care.

Lesley O’Keefe, Deputy Director: Academic and Student Services at Brunel University London, commented: “ProtectED offers a clear message that Brunel University London is serious about the provision of high levels of security and wellbeing for our students. It has been a good exercise in confirming and formalising some of the work that we do, which in turn will enable more consistency in the support being offered. And finally, this work has really assisted with cross-department working to remind all colleagues that we are all working towards the same outcome — a great, and safe, student experience for our students!”

Membership requires a university’s Vice Chancellor to commit to its principles, ensuring standards for CCTV, security guarding, events and door supervision are endorsed from the very top. Training for staff is essential, with consequences of poor standards high. Reports from 2018 indicate that over the past five years, 94% of universities have experienced a sharp increase in the number of students requesting support services – under ProtectED, all frontline security staff must be trained in suicide prevention and in responding to critical incidents.

ProtectED also asks universities to create Safety and Wellbeing partnerships between internal groups (e.g. security, wellbeing, international office) and external agencies, like local police and the NHS, to share expertise and information, supporting swift, effective responses to incidents following the principles of the JESIP initiative. Simon Lee – Teesside University explained: “We can use ProtectED as a tool to show that the University is a safe place to study. It really appeals that we can develop a holistic approach under one framework.”

Ultimately, ProtectED is designed to support students, whilst offering universities the chance to participate in a secure and established scheme. It also supports in encouraging students to attend and remain at participating institutions – useful when universities are placing ever more importance on retention rates.

Coventry University

With all this in mind, IFSEC Global spoke to Deanne Dunstan, Student Services at Coventry University (one of the founding members of the scheme), her thoughts.

Why is ProtectED needed In the HE sector?

We believe that ProtectED is needed because it offers a truly holistic approach to ensuring the safety, security and wellbeing of all students — all essential to student satisfaction, retention and success.

What are the top three key benefits you feel ProtectED offers?

  • ProtectED offers opportunities to share good practice with other universities and to learn from what others are doing to inform your own practice
  • It provides reassurance for both students and parents that student safety in all its forms is paramount
  • It provides a practical, transparent framework that outlines the varied measures and the requirements needed to satisfy the different levels.

How does ProtectED support and enhance existing Accreditations within the HE sector?

ProtectED is a great tool for ensuring that complex organisations, such as universities, coordinate their efforts and effectively utilise their resources in supporting students. The framework covers areas frequently missed by other initiatives — such as the unique support needs of the international students, that make an enormous contribution to the experience of Higher Education at many institutions. At Coventry University we have found the ProtectED framework an invaluable tool in ensuring that the support we provide at the University is amongst the best in class.

This article was originally published on IFSEC Global.

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