Thousands of international students enrol in universities all over the UK every year, attracted by the wide range of benefits that come with studying here. Many thought the pandemic would detrimentally affect the number of students coming to the UK, however, the Government’s 600,000 international student target has been hit a decade earlier than hoped.[1] We heard from Lisa Ravenscroft, Communications Manager at ProtectED about how universities need to meet the everchanging challenges to student safety in order to keep international students safe whilst at university. Lisa has previously shared with us some of the work ProtectED does to support the safety and wellbeing of students throughout their time in higher education.

The Pressures universities are facing

Universities take their duty of care to students seriously, but the pressures on university responsibilities are higher than ever, with the effects of the global pandemic, immigration, mental health and perceptions of safety.

Universities need to be prepared to provide high levels of student safety, security and wellbeing, if they are going to not only attract international students but give them the experience they expect.

A case for Protect ED

At ProtectED we work with universities providing a benchmark of good practice, against which they can measure their structures, existing processes, areas of improvement and successes. The benchmark focuses on five areas fundamental to:

  • Core Institutional Safety and Security
  • Student Wellbeing and Mental Health
  • International Students
  • Student Harassment and Sexual Assault
  • Student Night Out

The International Student instrument covers the support universities should provide from pre-departure, and arrival through to support throughout their studies. It covers everything from registering with a dentist to support during holidays when international students may remain on the campus when the main campus is closed.

Main concerns

For many international students coming to the UK is their first time living away from home in an unfamiliar city and country, and because of this, they may feel especially vulnerable.

There has been a huge jump in international students highlighting safety concerns as influencing their decision of where to study abroad. The 2021 QS Enrolment Solutions International Student Survey found that safety is now the second biggest concern for international students planning to study abroad.[2]

Students and universities 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 also have to be dealt with:

  • fraud
  • sexual assault
  • cyber-attack
  • drink spiking
  • hate crime
  • terrorism
  • knife crime
  • gambling
  • prostitution
  • illegal drug use
  • suicide
  • gender discrimination
  • domestic abuse
  • theft

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 to an institution’s brand. Media reports on crime and suicide involving students commonly link the student victim — or offender — with their institution. This impacts the institution‘s reputation for safety and security and may extend to the university town or city.

Combating all the problems that students face with 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 our core message we know that universities need to work closely with agencies such as the British council, police, NHS, local counselling services and support groups, to even come close to combating all the problems students face.

Future challenges

Looking to the future, cyber-crime and county lines are where the concern is growing about the links and risks associated with higher education.  There were several cyber-attacks targeting universities last year. The PIE News reported recently on two cybercrime fraud incidents in Northern Ireland, with two Chinese students being defrauded of over £110 thousand between them, with one student transferring £70,000 to a person posing as a Chinese police officer.

This just shows the dangers are ever-changing. The support needed by students and particularly by international students must be well thought out and robust if we are going to keep students safe.

[1] Erudera College News, UK Meets Target of 600,000 International Students Ten Years Earlier Than Planned, (2022)
[2] QS Enrolment Solutions, International Student Survey, (2018)

[3] The Pie News, UK: two students scammed out of £105,000, (2022)

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Thousands of international students enrol in UK universities every year, and for many this is their first time living abroad in an unfamiliar city. We heard from Lisa Ravenscroft, Communications Manager at ProtectED about the challenges these students face and how universities can support them throughout their studies.

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