Our student experience series starts with Lucy Winrow from ProtectED discussing some of the negative experiences students face and explains the ProtectED approach including their code of practice and the actions that each individual can take to make a difference.
Since university tuition fees trebled to £9000 in 2012, many have observed the negative impact this has had on students — from concerns that those from disadvantaged backgrounds will be deterred from going to university, to the link between rising debt and mental health issues among students.
The Student Academic Experience survey found that 34% of students now believe their course represents either poor, or very poor value for money, and only 19% feel that they are given enough information on how fees are spent. Although controversial, TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework) was, in part, intended to help students make an informed choice of where to study, based on teaching standards. But how can prospective students clearly and reliably identify which universities prioritise their safety and wellbeing? How can they be sure that they are also getting ‘value for money’ in student support?
Take money out of the equation and the fact remains that students are an at-risk group for certain safety and wellbeing issues. Universities have seen a 210% increase in students dropping out of university due to a mental ill health, and new research shows that almost two thirds of students and graduates have experienced sexual violence — only 2% felt able to report this to their university.
Full-time students also experience higher levels of victimisation than the general population for crimes such as mugging and burglary. While safety has always been an important issue for students planning to study abroad, evidence suggests that international students are increasingly concerned about the quality of campus safety programmes.
However, without an agreed national standard that universities must meet to address these problems, the quality of care varies between institutions — some students will be better supported than others. While there is some fantastic work taking place, practices at some universities leave a lot to be desired; for example, some purposely do not collect data on incidents of sexual violence on campus to avoid reputational damage.
The ProtectED approach
ProtectED is the first national accreditation scheme for student safety, security and wellbeing at UK universities. The scheme was developed over three years by academics and security experts at the University of Salford, responding to the safety and wellbeing risks students face (on top of the usual problems around making friends, leaving home and managing finances).
Taking a student-centred approach, we conducted a national survey of over 800 students, and held focus groups with campus police officers and Students’ Union sabbatical officers, to better understand the issues that negatively affect students’ lives, stopping them from reaching their potential. We also reviewed existing best practice guidance and case studies of university support initiatives. This work informed the ProtectED Code of Practice, launched in 2017.
The Code of Practice contains measures to address: university security; student wellbeing and mental health, international student welfare, harassment and sexual assault, and student safety on a night out. It creates a national standard that aims to raise the level of support given to students across UK. When universities are ready, they can submit for ProtectED accreditation. A peer review panel considers the application, and this is followed up by a verification visit. Successful universities must have all measures in place; they can then display the ProtectED logo, making them clearly identifiable to students and their families.
How can you get involved with ProtectED?
Student feedback was invaluable at the development stage of ProtectED, and as the scheme rolls out, there will be more opportunities to get involved. Throughout the Code of Practice, universities are asked to include students in a range of activities as the institution works towards accreditation, for example: when creating mental health awareness-raising campaigns, or by offering bystander training that empowers students to support their peers and safely tackle sexual violence on campus.
At the accreditation stage, students can get involved as assessors, alongside trained ProtectED assessors, providing feedback on services and initiatives at their university.
We also have a ProtectED blog where students from universities across the UK can share their safety and wellbeing experiences, and offer advice to fellow students. If you are interested in contributing, and highlighting student issues that are important to you, please get in touch.
What action can you take?
If you notice an unmet support need at your university, you could consider starting your own initiative. The Revolt Sexual Assault campaign was started by then-student Hannah Price when she observed a high number of students experiencing sexual violence, who felt unable to speak out about it. And students at Bournemouth University Students’ Union lead on the Mental Health Zone initiative, running peer-support workshops, and events to destigmatise student mental health. Many universities even offer funds for students wishing to set up their own projects, so find out what is on offer at your university.