Guest writer Lucy Winrow from Salford University has written for About Manchester concerning ProtectED project, developed at the University of Salford. ProtectED is the first national accreditation scheme for student safety, security and wellbeing at UK universities

Over the last few years, concern for student safety and wellbeing has dominated higher education news. Reports often refer to a mental health crisis at UK universities, with mental health services struggling  to meet demand. In some universities, 1 in 4 students are using or waiting to use student counselling services.

Sexual harassment is also a problem. The NUS ‘Hidden Marks’ report found that 68% of female students have experienced verbal or physical sexual harassment at university – only 10% of those subjected to a serious sexual assault reported this to the police. The Guardian also gathered the accounts of over 100 women to expose a “pattern” of hidden harassment committed by staff on students at UK universities.  

Other issues include the prevalence of hate crimes (the NUS ‘No Place for Hate’ survey revealed that 18% of students from ethnic minority backgrounds had experienced at least one racial hate incident whilst at university), and student safety – students are twice as likely to be mugged than the general population. 

Why and how was ProtectED developed?

In January 2015, a team of academics and security experts at the University of Salford began work to address the worrying trends in student safety and wellbeing. This involved a survey of over 800 UK students, and discussion groups with university security managers, police officers working on university campuses, and students’ union officers. The team also reviewed the existing guidance and practices in student safety and wellbeing.  This led to the development of ProtectED – the first national accreditation scheme for student safety, security and wellbeing.

The ProtectED Code of Practice was published earlier this year, focusing on five key areas: university security; student wellbeing and mental health; international students (safety and wellbeing); student harassment and sexual assault; and the student night out. The measures are drawn from best practice guidance on these issues, including Universities UK ‘Changing the Culture’ report on violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students.

To achieve the ProtectED Accredited Institution award, universities must demonstrate that they have all Code of Practice measures in place. The confidential accreditation process includes a peer review panel, and trained assessors visit the university.

What does the scheme aim to do?

ProtectED was created with the goal of significantly improving university practices in relation to student safety, security and wellbeing. At present, the standard of support universities offer to students varies widely. While guidance exists in these areas, it is optional – ProtectED provides a way of getting the good practice into practice. The lack of standardised student support is a concern for students and their families. International students are often particularly concerned about safety when choosing where to study, and may be deterred by damning newspaper headlines.

The Code of Practice case studies help to raise awareness of, and celebrate, the good work that is taking place at some universities, and offer guidance to those who currently fall short. While university security has traditionally focused on preventing and detecting crime, and protecting assets, ProtectED is asking universities to look more widely at the way they support students. Their approach should encompass both the physical and mental wellbeing of students, on and off campus, during the evenings and at weekends.

How will ProtectED help UK universities to address student safety and wellbeing issues?

Partnership working runs throughout the ProtectED Code of Practice, based on the firm belief that this is the key to helping universities effectively implement change. As part of the accreditation process, universities must create working links between their internal services such as security and wellbeing, the students’ union, and with external agencies such as the police, NHS, charities, and even other universities.

This will enable a whole community approach to tackling persistent student safety and wellbeing concerns; the group can share ideas, pool resources and implement data sharing agreements, helping them to enhance and streamline student support. For example, a partnership between universities, students and police in York helps to keep vulnerable students safe, while reducing the number of police callouts. ProtectED aims to establish a network of accredited universities, working together on solutions to better meet students’ needs.

Last month, Baroness Ruth Henig became the new ProtectED patron. She is supporting the drive to recruit 12 founder member universities who will take the lead on student safety, security and wellbeing in the higher education sector. To date, almost 50 universities have expressed an interest in ProtectED membership.

For more information on ProtectED, visit  www.protect-ed.org .

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