Security in Universities – the ever-changing challenge
It is easy to think that security is the same no matter the sector, but there are specific challenges relating to universities that require consideration and training and that make security within Higher Education (HE) quite different from other sectors.
Campus security has, in the past, been viewed as locking doors and patrolling a campus, but the threats and problems that face students and staff are varied and complicated.
Universities rely on the fees that students pay, so it is imperative that they feel safe, or a university risks losing students and along with them, their fees and possibly their reputation.
Director of K7 Compliance Ltd & ProtectED CIC, Brian Nuttall, is no stranger to working in different areas of security and has noted the differences of working in Higher Education. He explains: “Higher Education is like no other experience. It involves the largest migration of people across the UK each September, every year. Bringing together thousands of people from different backgrounds and cultures, with varying levels of life experience, for 40–51 weeks which undoubtably brings its own challenges.”
What are the challenges?
Being part of a campus security team means, you are dealing with thousands of students, many of whom live on campus; this is a 24/7, 365 day a year, provision. Security staff can go from securing a building to diffusing anti-social behaviour from intoxicated students and then supporting a student with mental health difficulties, all within a few minutes on a campus, when no other university teams are around for support.
Campus security must prioritise people more so than assets, which is why security staff in the sector need a specialist skill set to tackle the particular challenges when safeguarding students. Mental health, sexual harassment and assault and the cultural differences that international students bring are the kinds of challenges that a security operative might face.
Students and security teams have never had so many things to consider. Students come to university knowing they will probably face normal worries such as academic proficiency and making friends, but much larger problems may have to be dealt with such as:
- fraud • sexual assault • cyber-attack
- drink spiking • hate crime • terrorism
- knife crime • theft • gambling
- prostitution • illegal drug use • suicide
- gender discrimination • domestic abuse
The list goes on and the problems are not likely to diminish anytime soon. Information about crime and student victimisation is regularly picked up by the media and translated into headlines that can be damaging for an institution’s brand. Media reports on crime and suicide involving students commonly link the student victim – or offender – with their institution. This impacts on the institution‘s reputation for safety and security, and may extend to the university town or city.
Combatting all the problems that students face by the security team alone is an impossibility. A multi-agency and multi- university department approach to safety, security and wellbeing with partnership working is the only way to achieve this. This is the core message of the ProtectED – a not-for-profit community interest company and membership organisation. They advise that universities need to work closely with agencies such as the police, NHS, local counselling services and support groups, to even come close to combatting all the problems students face.
The other aspect to ensure that students and staff get the full support they need, is through staff training. As a minimum, campus security staff should have additional training in suicide prevention and mental health support, as it could prevent an incident that costs a life.
The future challenges facing security and higher education
We all know that on the back of the pandemic, mental health will be something that will affect universities, as the true picture of the lockdown after-effects surfaces. It will be interesting to see how students that started their university journey in 2021 manage with their studies, living away from families and being around large numbers of people for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Which makes the training of security teams on how to identify and support students more relevant than ever.
Looking to the future, cyber-crime and county lines crime are also areas where concern is growing about the links and risks associated with HE. There were several cyber-attacks targeting universities last year.
University campus security is not an easy job; it is varied and complicated, the issues and risks are diverse and ever changing, but it is an area where great changes can happen. As policies and regulations change, there will always be a new challenge.