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Higher education variety

No two security jobs can be really described as the same, writes Andy Lane, Managing Director of Regional Security, G4S Secure Solutions (UK).

Whilst there may be patterns and day-to-day, shift-to-shift similarities, security is varied according to the risks posed on each job. However, after 27 years in the industry, I can safely say that security in higher education is among the most varied. In my view, the way to deal with this is to remember you have to learn all the time.

The primary concern of any university is the welfare of its students, and whether they look to private companies to provide security or in-house, the fundamental understanding of that objective must be the same. The complex requirements of providing security solutions to universities and higher education institutions means officers need to be highly adaptable. But it goes further than that, because given the risk profiles of higher education sites today, security needs to be highly sensitive as well.

I see the four main challenges for security in higher education as understanding and reflecting sensitivities with language issues, equality and diversity, and dealing with fast-changing incidents in a 24-hour environment.

As Britain’s higher university sector continues to entrench its reputation for excellence and therefore its international reach, the proportion of students from overseas is set to rise. The HE sector’s reliance on overseas non-EU students for income is forecast to increase from 11 per cent to 13 per cent by next year. As such, universities will increasingly tailor their offering to suit international students’ needs.

Consequently, the sheer range of languages will expand and this communications challenge is directly relevant to the security industry. Moments of distress, which often forms the setting where officers interact with students, can exacerbate this difficulty. Security officers’ training should incorporate an understanding that not all students have advanced English skills.

Universities are a haven for vibrant and diverse student populations. As social attitudes change, campuses are becoming even more diverse alongside the need for respect on the grounds of equality for gender, sexual orientation and race. A study carried out in the University of Roehampton makes the point that campuses have issues with female students and fears surrounding sexual assault and rape. Often security services on campuses are male-dominated and positioned as typically masculine.

The same study suggests that fear is as great a threat to the welfare of students as actual incidents of crime. The National Student Survey (NSS) has provided insight into the levels of anxiety, insecurity and fear that some students face. As a part of this, fear of homophobia, racism or other antisocial behaviours should be meshed into the security industry’s understanding of student populations.

University students are supposed to have some of the best years of their lives on campus. As security professionals, we’re here to make sure they do so in a safe and secure environment. Student life can be riotous and the presence of drink and drugs causes security incidents. Where there is a criminal element security officers are often on the scene first, assessing the situation before contacting the police. By their very nature, such incidents are fast-moving and security must move likewise.

Party atmospheres pose a whole range of risks that can need fast mitigation and de-escalation based on intelligence and careful understanding. From thefts of expensive gadgets, to a student who perhaps may have made too ‘merry’, or dormitory pranks that can go wrong, the key to higher education security is to remember, you’re learning all the time.


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