Dealing with a crisis is difficult at the best of times, but it is made far worse when under the scrutiny of the media. Here are some recent examples of high-profile problems that colleges have been faced with:
Double tragedy of students’ violent deaths
Nottingham College has seen two of its students killed in the space of a year. Reuben Morris-Laing, 21, was stabbed to death last year in a case of mistaken identity. A plaque and memorial tree were unveiled by his mother at the college last month.
Earlier this year, the college also hit the headlines when student Mariam Moustafa, 18, died after being attacked in the city.
Having experienced PR professionals in place, providing a fast response and “keeping the wider college and governorship effectively briefed on developments” were all important in reacting to these incidents, according to Simon Kirby, the college’s director of marketing and communications. “The national and international scale of the story [about the death of Mariam Moustafa] and the sheer number of outlets contacting the college was a challenge,” he says.
Model student turned terrorist
Ahmed Hassan, who was “student of the year” at Brooklands College in Surrey in 2017, was jailed for a minimum of 34 years last month. He left a home-made bomb on a tube train in West London last summer. The device failed to detonate correctly but injured more than 20 people.
Protest over proposals to ban the niqab
Birmingham Metropolitan College tried to ban the niqab, a traditional Islamic veil, in 2013 but was forced to perform a U-turn on the decision after a petition started by a former student at the college was signed by 9,000 people.
Ben Verinder, a chartered public relations practitioner who worked in FE communications for 15 years, says many “college PR crises” could have been avoided if they had had professional public relations and relationship management strategies in place.
“It’s not about spin,” he explains. “It’s about effective management of the relationships that matter most to you as a college”.
Verinder says there is a moral imperative to protect a college’s reputation because of its importance to past, current and future students. “When we go for a job interview, we carry our qualifications and place of study with us. That is why professional public relations is an essential function of a college”.