Staying safe in the UK: Tips for international students
Research suggests that international students are increasingly concerned about safety when choosing where to study. However, during the excitement of packing, arranging accommodation and booking flights, thoughts for your personal safety can get lost.
A responsible university will have schemes and initiatives to help keep you safe and informed. In the UK, identifying such institutions is getting easier for prospective students and their families. A new accreditation scheme – ProtectED – launched earlier this year to assess how well universities support students in the following areas:
- University security;
- Student mental health;
- Student harassment and sexual assault;
- Student safety on a night out;
- International student safety and wellbeing.
Universities displaying the ProtectED logo meet all ProtectED Code of Practice measures, offering assurance that your safety and wellbeing is taken seriously. So what type of support can you expect from UK universities, how will ProtectED help, and what can you do to make sure you have a safe, positive experience?
Before you leave
The British Council run pre-departure briefings to help you plan your journey to the UK – if these are not available in your country, you can download the First Steps guide. Both provide important information on what to pack, settling in, personal safety and much more.
ProtectED recognises the importance of preparation and so member universities must signpost their safety, security and wellbeing services on their international student recruitment web-pages, and provide students with copies of another helpful British Council guide – Creating Confidence. This covers issues such as road and street safety, relevant UK laws, and useful phone numbers. Be sure to read this information before leaving for the UK.
Welcome Week events should include talks on safety on and around campus, such as transport options, areas to avoid and where to seek help. ProtectED universities deliver these talks for international students as a minimum and are encouraged to offer an extended range of events, repeated across the week to allow everyone to attend. The University of Sheffield is a good example of this approach; they offer a schedule of events for international students including campus tours, city centre walks and introductions to student services.
Meeting local police
It is important that you feel comfortable approaching the local police. ProtectED member universities arrange for local police officers to speak to students during Welcome Week to explain how and when you can contact them. The University of Cardiff’s ‘Cuppa with a Copper’ initiative lets students have a relaxed chat with a local police officer, ask questions and hopefully feel more confident about reporting a crime, should they need to. Many police forces also have dedicated student safety web-pages, such as West Midlands Police’s Safer Students resource; there may be something similar in your area.
Students often carry laptops, iPods and smartphones, which can attract thieves. Keep valuables concealed, preferably in a zipped up bag, when you are out in public. Many university security departments suggest marking your property with an ultraviolet pen or SmartWater – it can be traced back to you if lost or stolen. 1 in 3 burglaries are a result of people leaving doors and windows unlocked; take time to lock up before leaving your accommodation.
Avoid carrying large amounts of cash and use cash machines during the day, while keeping an eye on nearby people. Managing your money will be easier once you open a UK bank account. The British Banking Association has a useful guide: ‘International students opening up a bank account’ and your university should offer advice on its international student web-pages. ProtectED accredited universities provide up-to-date information on opening a bank account and are encouraged to bring bank representatives onto campus to answer questions and assist your application.
The sooner you identify your available transport options, the safer you will feel. This begins with your journey to the UK; some universities, such as Aston, will meet you at the airport or bus station when you arrive and provide a coach to the university.
Welcome Week talks should discuss using public transport, and draw attention to any university transport services. The University of Leeds’ ‘safe taxi’ scheme allows you to use your university ID if you have no money to pay for a taxi, while the University of Surrey’s Night Bus is cheap and runs until late. ProtectED universities must provide schemes and services to help students get to and from home safely. You can also make use of mobile apps such as the Arriva Bus app, which tells you where your nearest bus stop is and which bus to catch.
On a night out
Before leaving for a night out, tell a friend or flatmate where you are going, with whom, and what time you will be home. Plan your journey in advance: what transport will you use, where does it leave from, and do you have money set aside for the fare? If you are walking, stick to well-lit areas where other people are in sight.
Carry a fully charged mobile phone so you can keep in touch with friends, call a taxi or seek assistance. ProtectED universities promote and provide mobile apps for your personal safety – many universities suggest Critical Arc, which allows you to call for university security or First Aid, if needed.
ProtectED also requires universities to work with nearby venues to help keep students safe. Universities in Bradford run a Safe Spot scheme where businesses display window stickers to show that they will offer you a safe space or access to a phone. The University of Sheffield’s ‘Ask for Angela’ scheme to tackle sexual harassment enables you to get help from bar staff. ProtectED also emphasises the importance of peer support; student volunteers may patrol the streets to help those who are lost, unwell or who have been a victim of crime. Good university schemes include the University of York’s NightSafe programme or the University of Warwick’s Street Marshalls.
If there is any aspect of your personal safety that you are worried about then speak to your university and find out how they can help. By taking the time to consider the issues discussed here, and making use of the available support and services, you can approach your studies with confidence and enjoy your time in the UK.
(About the author: Dr Lucy Winrow works with academics at the University of Salford on the ProtectED project. She also runs the twitter page @ProtectED_HEI, tweeting about issues impacting the student experience, including mental health, harassment and sexual assault, and safety on and off campus.)