Three-quarters of female students do not always feel safe walking around their university campus at night, the Sodexho- Times Higher university lifestyle survey has found.
The research, which will be released in full next week, reveals that while students generally feel secure during the day, fewer than four in ten feel safe all of the time when walking around the university site at night. The picture is particularly worrying for female students: only one-quarter of women feel safe all the time on university property at night.
The survey, involving more than 2,000 students in 30 universities, shows that many students feel frightened when travelling between their accommodation and their university site after dark. Some 36 per cent of students said they always felt safe making this journey at night. The figure is 24 per cent for women.
Further investigation by The Times Higher has shown that while universities across the country strive to teach students how to protect themselves, crime remains a major problem for the academic sector.
Institutions report that mugging, sexual assault, burglary and drink-spiking are particular concerns. In recent months, a woman was raped on campus at Warwick University, overseas students at Hertfordshire University faced racist attacks and students at Ulster University were threatened with assault by a paramilitary organisation.
A spokeswoman for the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, a charity that campaigns to improve personal safety, said: "Often young people are coming into big cities for the first time, and they are very vulnerable."
She added that 16 to 24-year-old men were twice as likely as young women to experience violent crime.
According to the survey, students in Ulster and London feel the least secure. Only a quarter of students in the capital feel safe travelling to and from their university campus at night.
A large number of students in Ulster do not even feel completely safe in the day. Some per cent of students feel totally secure walking around the university campus at night and 12 per cent never feel safe. Sue Stegling, head of student support at UU, said the institution had different issues because it had a very dispersed campus.
She said: "We've been trying to educate young women about protecting themselves against harassment for years. There has been a good deal of worry lately about the date rape issue, and the student union has been very active in campaigning on that."
Ms Stegling warned that a move away from campus socialising, with some universities closing union bars, would increase the dangers. She said:
"Many students are not very streetwise. Away from the student union we can't police things in any way."
Roy Smith, chief security officer at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, said: "Students are on extremely tight budgets and choose to live in the cheapest accommodation, which usually means estates where crime is higher."