Intrusive closed-circuit television cameras and heavy-handed security guards have provoked widespread complaints from students. National student leaders say it is the biggest cause for complaint as colleges increasingly recruit security firms to police campuses.
With renewed demands for tighter security in schools - following the stabbing of four adults and three children at St Luke's Church of England School in Wolverhampton - the students' comments highlight the conflict between liberty and security.
College managers' organisations acknowledge there is a problem but say it is not a major issue.
A dossier of complaints is being compiled by the National Union of Students. Worries include the placing of TV cameras in student and staff common rooms. A security group has been put in charge of youth work in a north London college, allegedly without proper training.
Reports of homophobic attitudes among guards were common. Students said also that they were excluded from parts of the campus, including the library, at unreasonable times under rules imposed by security teams.
Students at East Berkshire College complained to The TES about security officers poisoning the atmosphere. Robert Mesure, a performing arts student, said: "They interfere with our lives and make fun of the students."
Women students accused male security guards of using the cameras to "spy" on them in the common room. "It's an invasion of privacy," said Tracy Statters, a youth and community worker who liaises with the student welfare department at East Berkshire College.
But principal Ray Sinclair-Smith said he was not aware of complaints about security officers. "If that sort of complaint was made to me action would be taken," he said.
A student consultative committee was there to deal with such complaints but the students seemed unaware of it. Robert Mesure said: "A lot of people don't know about the mechanisms they've got for complaint."
Liberty, the national civil liberties watchdog, has been alerted to the student complaints. It says the same tough regulations they want imposed on "spies" in shopping malls should apply to colleges.
Spokeswoman Atiya Lockwood said: "The problem is that we do not have a right to privacy in law. There is also the question of who monitors the information and who the information is passed on to."
Danny Douglas, national FE officer for the NUS, said: "We are not opposed to moves to give students a secure atmosphere. A problem emerging from our findings is that the staff recruited for security work are not properly trained.
Pembrokeshire College is to be the first in the UK to establish a permanent police station on campus. It is hoped that this will help break down barriers between police and young people while pre-empt the need to hire private security staff or install cameras.
It is intended that they will have an educational role in issues like drug abuse and community welfare. While neither students nor staff oppose the plan, they want guarantees that officers will have additional training.