'Soft target' colleges must tighten security, estate managers warned

21st May 2010 at 01:00
Expert claims compulsory identity cards would bolster students' safety and learning experience

Compulsory identity cards across further education would help to improve campus security and enhance the learning experience for students, estates managers heard at their annual conference.

While many colleges issue identity cards for staff and students, few strictly enforce the rules, last week's conference run by the Association of Colleges (AoC) heard.

Speaking at the event, Robert Imiolczyk, estates and facilities manager at Merthyr Tydfil College, said that colleges were "soft targets" in terms of security as they pride themselves on being open to the communities they serve.

"I would like to keep colleges as open as possible," Mr Imiolczyk told FE Focus after the conference. "Students should be a free as possible and I would not want them to see us as Big Brother.

"But society is changing and our students are asking to be educated in a safe and secure environment. As a result, security is becoming a much bigger piece of work for FE.

"The thing is that it is very difficult to police a college, which is why ID badges seem to be a good option. They can prevent people being on site who should not be there, unlike CCTV which is useful to record incidents that have already happened."

Mr Imiolczyk said that the trouble is that some people refused to wear their identity badges and that colleges can be reluctant to address the matter.

"The question is, are senior managers aware of all the security issues and are they willing to enforce the wearing of ID badges?" he said.

Another issue for colleges in coming years is the professionalisation of their security staff, Mr Imiolczyk said.

"While universities tend to use external security companies to police campuses, in FE the security staff tend to come under the estates umbrella and often they are not qualified in security," he said.

"But what happens in HE will definitely come down to FE. We need to learn from HE now. Professional security staff might be a way forward. I am looking at training for my own staff."

Elsewhere, the conference heard how colleges were striving to meet the demands of students in providing modern teaching facilities.

Martin Pritchard, estates network manager for the AoC, said that the concept of Learner Voice meant that providers had to look at new ways of teaching and new learning environments in order to meet student demand.

"There is huge variation across the country between those colleges that have had capital investment for new buildings and those who had plans to do something radical but had the funding rug pulled from under their feet," Mr Pritchard said.

"But the feeling from the conference was that if colleges are prepared to be a bit radical then, even if they have 1960s buildings, it is possible, without spending huge amounts of money, to develop a mixture of modern learning environments within an old shell."

Mr Pritchard said that the traditional model of a lecturer standing in front of a class with a whiteboard had its limits.

"Colleges have to aspire to something more modern," he said. "We have to be more radical than having teaching spaces where the teacher stands at one end of a room and students at the other.

"This is heavily dependent on IT, but it is not just about more sockets for computers but about bandwidth and about looking at other ways in which students can download learning resources."

The AoC is looking to resurrect an estates benchmarking tool to allow colleges to compare their estates costs. It is also set to launch an estates forum in the summer.

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