Providing students with a safe environment is a key component in the overall success of your institution. Our blog covers 10 ways your institution can improve student safety.
Crimes including burglary, violence, domestic violence, mugging, robbery, theft, and sexual assault unfortunately take place at universities across the globe.
In the UK, for example, past data demonstrates that university students are more at risk of crime and mental ill-health than the rest of the population.
With the rise of coronavirus forcing many institutions to rethink their health and safety protocols, it’s time to examine what other safety measures your institution may have been overlooking.
It’s difficult to provide a complete definition for the level of protection that an institution must legally offer students, as the boundaries concerning the liability of student safety at universities is still evolving in many countries.
For example, a violent attack towards a fellow student at a US university triggered the California Supreme Court to contest the claim that as a matter of law, the university did not have a duty to protect its students from criminal acts.
On March 22, 2018, this law was updated to now state that “postsecondary schools have a duty to protect students from foreseeable violent acts that occur while students are engaged in curricular activities.”
While this means that college students must now legally be protected from harm in California, there are still several limitations and variables that affect the scope of this law.
Regardless of the level of legal responsibility universities have for the safety of their students, it’s still expected that a general duty of care is provided to the best of their ability.
AMOSSHE Futures, experts in UK student welfare, describe this duty in the following terms: “To deliver its educational and pastoral services to the standard of the ordinarily competent institution, and, in carrying out its services and functions, to act reasonably to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its students.”
This perspective has been adopted by universities across the globe, reiterating that it’s the responsibility of the institution to not only provide an education, but also a safe environment for students.
In fact, safety is a huge factor for international students when deciding where to study.
As part of the 2019 International Student Survey, international students were asked to provide the top five things that were most important to them when choosing a country to study in.
The most popular answer at 59% was for the country to be “welcoming to international students.”
In addition to this, the QS report Your Higher Education Spotlight on Asia, revealed that 40% of prospective international students from the Asian region believe that safety is one of the most important aspects of a study destination.
Therefore, keeping students safe at your institution is not only a necessary obligation of a well-functioning institution, but a key characteristic to maintain student interest.
With that in mind, here are 10 areas that your institution must address to improve student safety on campus.
1. Sexual assault prevention
One of the leading issues in student safety, and one that requires a unique set of preventative tools, is the sexual assault of university students.
The importance of developing a sexual assault prevention strategy is made strikingly clear when incident rates are investigated.
A report by Revolt Sexual Assault shows that 62% of the surveyed UK students and graduates have experienced sexual violence.
Gender plays a huge part in this, with 70% of UK female students and recent graduates surveyed experiencing sexual violence; compared with 26% of males and 61% of non-binary participants.
The ongoing issue of sexual assault is mirrored in the US, where a rise in media coverage over the last few years has exposed the reality of incidents on college campuses.
In fact, the United States Department of Justice revealed that one out of every four female undergraduates will experience some form of sexual assault before graduation.
For an in-depth account of how your university can act to prevent instances of sexual assault, check out our previous blog: How Universities can Provide the Best Support Services for Victims of Sexual Harassment.
While it’s impossible to supply a watertight solution to sexual assault on university campuses, educating students on consent and conducting a zero-tolerance approach to incidents are methods that have been adopted by many universities.
Embracing some of the more general safety measures as touched upon in this blog, such as tackling alcohol and drug abuse and providing good transport links, may also have a positive impact on the issue.
2. Crime reporting processes
A survey of university students in Australia revealed that a staggering number of sexual assault incidents on university campuses go unreported.
The Australian Human Rights Commission found that 84% of those surveyed who had experienced sexual assault had chosen to keep their experience to themselves.
Other crimes, such as theft and hate crimes, also go unreported for a variety of reasons, including fear of repercussions for the victim or simply not knowing how to file a report.
When police and university staff have knowledge of and access to details on incidents, they can do more to prevent these crimes from reoccurring.
Therefore, it’s important for universities to eliminate the barriers that stop students from coming forward with their experiences.
Working closely with police and support workers, universities can develop a crime reporting process for students to follow; one that is clear, reassuring, and with the students’ best interest in mind.
The University of Leeds student union (LUU) developed a Hate Crime Reporting Project in an attempt to “help develop an understanding of what hate crime is, how to report it, and how to access support.”
As part of the project, student ambassadors were trained by Stop Hate UK and used their knowledge to work with LUU’s faith societies, culture groups, LGBT+ and disability action groups, and faculties with a high percentage of international students.
Spreading awareness of hate crimes and expressing the university’s zero-tolerance approach were combined to create a “challenge, report, and support culture among the student and staff community.”
But hearing a victim’s experience is just one of the steps in reporting a crime. It’s just as important to provide students with the right support services to process any trauma from the incident.
Our blog, Mental Health in Higher Education: What Role Should Universities Play, offers advice on how your institution should be tackling mental health issues among their students.
Mental health and counselling services help to keep students safe by protecting their mental well-being; whether that’s support for victims of crime, or for students to work through other issues.
3. Alcohol and drug awareness
The Health Promotion Journal of Australia conducted a report into the relationship between alcohol consumption and related harm among university students in Australia.
They found that students who consume high-risk levels of alcohol were more likely to experience harm in many different forms than those who consume low-risk levels.
For example, students who reported high-risk consumption were “1.6 times more likely to experience harm and 1.1 times more likely to witness harm than students who consume alcohol at low-risk levels.”
This trend was seen in all types of harm, including criminal and aggressive behavior, health and emotional harm, and sexual harm.
The report by the Australian Human Rights Commission into sexual assault incidents at universities also reported on the link between sexual harm and excessive alcohol consumption.
The report included examples of “sex attacks at booze-fueled university and college parties, and a binge-drinking sex culture at university-owned or affiliated accommodation.”
It’s clear that students who drink high levels of alcohol are much more likely to find themselves in unsafe situations; something that is also the case for those who abuse drugs.
University World News has reported on the steady increase of drug and substance abuse at many African universities.
Reports into drug trends at universities in Ethiopia expose the damage this can have on students, including “decreased work, decreased academic performance, increased risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, accidents, intoxication while working, absenteeism, violent crime, theft, and other psychiatric disorders such as lethargy, hopelessness, and insomnia.”
Both reports request action from universities to help control and monitor drug abuse to reduce cases of harm among students.
To address such behavior, the UK’s Newcastle University has opted for an approach that favors communication and education on drug-related issues, as opposed to handing out instant and harsh repercussions.
For further details on how your institutions could approach the issue of drug abuse among students, check out our blog: How Universities can Tackle Drug Use on Campus.
4. Well-lit campuses
Research has shown that crimes are more likely to take place in darkness, due to a drop in possible witnesses and a reduction in visibility.
A study into the relationship between street crime, darkness, and temperature in the UK revealed that “darkness is an important driving factor in seasonal variation of street robbery.”
Their data shows that “traversing from full daylight to full darkness increases the predicted volume of robbery by a multiple of 2.6 (a 160% increase) when other factors are accounted for.”
Therefore, installing and maintaining street lights on campus is an important part of keeping students safe.
Additionally, this can help to create a welcoming atmosphere and improve the overall look of the university.
The University of Waikato in New Zealand has taken steps to ensure their “paths are well lit” with the added touch of “blue stickers on the lamp posts” to provide clear directions.
5. Campus security
Along with its clearly lit paths, the University of Waikato has also improved student safety with its blue light phones for contacting security staff and security cameras.
Having 24/7 campus security staff and security protocol, such as the use of ID for entry, can help to keep unauthorized people off campus.
It also means that any criminal activity that takes place on campus, such as violence and theft, can be addressed and controlled immediately.
Security cameras can act as a deterrent for criminals and reassure students of their safety.
A study into the effect of CCTV on crime rates revealed that when it’s introduced in certain areas there was “a modest and significant reduction in crime.”
According to the investigation “crime decreased by approximately 13% in CCTV areas compared with in the control areas.”
As explained by Tony Porter, Surveillance Camera Commissioner for Gov.uk, CCTV can also be reassuring to parents who “want to know campuses are secure and safe from potential threats.”
6. Evacuation training
Unfortunately, there may be instances where guests with unwanted motives gain access to campus.
When this or any other emergency arises, how the university responds can have a huge impact on the overall outcome of the situation.
Clear and rehearsed evacuation training can help students get to safety as quickly as possible.
This is particularly important for institutions in the US, given the rise in mass shootings at schools and colleges.
Depending on where the university is located, students might also need to be trained in responding to natural phenomenon and extreme weather.
Gadjah Mada University is in Indonesia, which experiences severe, frequent earthquakes.
The university has a Disaster Response Unit (DERU) program which sends students from various departments to assist emergency services when disasters strike.
Not only does this train more people in disaster management, but the university’s level of involvement in disaster response helps to increase awareness among other students on campus.
Evacuation training and alarm tests for other emergencies such as fire should also be widespread among higher education institutions.
7. Protecting belongings
For many students, university is their first taste of independence; working to a timetable, preparing meals, keeping safe, and taking responsibility for their personal belongings.
A student is likely to have many valuables with them while at university including laptops, bikes, and phones, which can make them a target for thieves.
While the responsibility to keep these items safe rests with the student, there are steps your institution can take to help them achieve this goal.
Encouraging students to report thefts they have experienced can help police track down the culprits and prevent further instances.
United Students advises students to keep their valuables with them or to lock up any items if they are away.
Insuring valuables is also a useful practice as students may be able to submit claims for lost or stolen items.
8. First aid training
It’s important to take all the necessary steps to ensure your campus is as safe as it can be.
Place warning signs where there might be dangers, such as spills or hot liquids, and take steps to reduce the likelihood that students will encounter these risks.
However, even when all the right precautions have been taken, your institution is still likely to face a medical emergency on campus at some point.
Depending on the severity, the first step is always to call emergency services or contact your campus medical staff.
However, for minor injuries, or where time is of the essence, first aid training for staff can come in handy.
In the UK, the Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 “requires employers to provide adequate and appropriate equipment, facilities, and personnel to enable first aid to be given to employees who are injured or become ill at work.”
This means that first aid boxes must be placed around campus, and there must be first aid trained staff on hand.
Investing in first aid training for staff at your institution and offering this opportunity to students can help to ensure that any medical emergencies that occur on campus have a positive outcome.
9. Transport links
As explained, crimes are most likely to occur at night and in darkness.
At university, a popular social activity for many students is visiting bars and clubs till late into the evening or early morning.
Students will therefore need to find their way home late at night, most likely after drinking, which can put them in a vulnerable position.
Having regular, safe, and affordable transport links between the local town and campus is a great way of improving student safety.
Many institutions also choose to build a relationship with trusted taxi services, so that students know where to turn for a safe journey home.
Nottingham Cars has a strong relationship with both the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University in the UK, and “work closely with the Students Unions to ensure student safety and awareness, especially on nights out in the city.”
10. Online safety
The internet has become a key feature of our everyday lives.
Today, 95% of young people have access to a smart phone and social media is often a key component of their day.
Young people are particularly vulnerable online as there are many who might wish to exploit them using techniques such as identity theft.
Educating students on how to protect themselves in the virtual space should be part of your institution’s student safety strategy.
Safewise advises students to implement privacy measures, such as not geotagging photos, as this “reveals your location to strangers.”
They also recommend not to “publicly announce when you’re home alone or are leaving your home unattended.”
Presenting safety tips such as these via email or posters on campus can help to educate students on how best to navigate the online world.
It’s also the responsibility of the university to protect student data such as a student’s name, age, physical address, and bank details.
If not properly protected, this data can be used in financial fraud and identity theft, and so steps such as two-factor authentication and firewalls must be implemented at your institution.