Safety is still main worry

April 16, 2004

A spate of attacks has alerted universities to security problems

University security guards are facing an uphill struggle to keep their students safe despite attempts to raise awareness about crime.

"There is a problem with people from outside coming onto the site who shouldn't be there and students bringing outsiders back," the head of security at one big city university told The Times Higher . "Recently there have been a lot of drugs on campus, so we get dealers coming in."

The source, who has asked not to be named, said he had helped students who had been mugged or beaten up. Recently, one female student was raped on campus by a minicab driver.

Such problems are not confined to big city universities. Campus universities and those in smaller towns may offer students a more sheltered environment, but many still face major security issues.

A student at Warwick University was attacked and raped on a wooded path connecting new student residences to the main campus earlier this year.

A spokesperson for the university said: "Even campus universities like us are prey to horrible attackers such as this one. With 20,000 students we are literally a small city, and cities have bad things happen in them."

The rapist has not been caught, but Warwick acted quickly to try to ensure that such attacks do not happen in future. It installed new security poles with bright blue flashing lights in secluded parts of the campus. Students who fear they are being followed can press a button on the pole and an alarm will go off, alerting security guards.

Hertfordshire University, in the small town of Hatfield, has suffered from a number of racial incidents. Last month a Pakistani student had his laptop stolen in what was believed to be a racially motivated attack. Norma Wright, Hertfordshire constabulary's hate-crimes officer, said the student was devastated by the assault.

John Baldwin, the university's community liaison officer who works to protect and advise students on crime, stressed that the majority of incidents were not race related.

But he said: "This is a much more personal crime. Having your property stolen because of the colour of your skin is very upsetting."

Mr Baldwin added: "We advise students about how to keep safe, but some don't listen and put themselves at risk."

Protecting students outside the university remains a major problem. The Safer York Partnership recently funded new lighting for a notorious shortcut to the York university campus. The secluded path, known locally as "rape alley", has been a haunt of flashers and the scene of two serious sexual attacks on young women.

Chris Jones, president of York Student Union, is delighted with the investment in security. But he said his campaign for the council to provide better lighting on another dangerous footpath was falling on deaf ears.

Roy Smith, the chief security officer at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, said institutions across the country were working hard to teach students how to look after themselves. But he said students needed to be encouraged to report crime.

He added: "A university education isn't just about your chosen subject, it's about life. We don't want to wrap students up in cotton wool, but we've got to make them as safe as we can."

anna.fazackerley@thes.co.uk

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