With a number of high-profile knife and gun attacks occupying the front pages of Britain’s newspapers, students are citing safety concerns as a major factor in their choice of university. While it is estimated that around 30 per cent of students will fall victim to some form of crime while at university, it is hard to know the full extent of the problem.

Many students are reluctant to speak to the police about their experiences; they might think the crime that has been committed is relatively insignificant and so do not feel that reporting it would be worthwhile. In addition, there are no separate statistics available for crimes committed specifically against students, as oppsoed to the UK as a whole. This is a situation that came as a shock to American professor Bonnie Fisher, who has published a report on the subject. “I was very surprised to learn that universities in the UK do not publicly report their crime statistics,” she said. “There is no standard by which crime data on campuses is kept.’’

American colleges are required to publish details of crimes committed on students that have reported to campus security, local law enforcement agents and school officials, and these reports can in turn be accessed by potential students and their parents. The law was implemented after Jeanne Clery, a student at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, was raped and murdered by a fellow student who had entered her college room with the intention of burgling it. Now colleges that either fail to comply with the legislation, or who are found to alter their figures could be fined up to $27,000 (£18,000) and see their funding cut by the State.

Fisher’s research suggests that student crime is largely committed by other students. ’’Students are most fearful of strangers as perpetrators, but it is students who commit the majority of crimes against each other,” she said. “Students need to be educated as to who commits the majority of crimes against them, and they need to be taught better crime-prevention skills."

Research suggests that burglary is the most common crime committed against students. Those between the ages of 16 and 24 are most likely to suffer break-ins as thieves think they are more likely to own the latest expensive consumer goods that can then be easily sold on. That’s added to the fact that many students live in shared accommodation, so there is the opportunity to break into a house that probably contains several PCs, games consoles, televisions and mobile phones.

Additionally, a large proportion of student accommodation is in less affluent areas of major cities where the rental prices are lower but the crime rates are – in general – higher.

Other risks that some students face are sexual assault and theft, due to the lifestyles they lead. With young adults in the UK amongst the heaviest drinkers in Europe, many students find themselves in situations where the risks of being attacked or mugged are increased. Fisher believes many of the problems students face could be avoided through relatively simple measures. "There is a combination of challenges, including students' lifestyle which puts them risk, as well as their lack of adopting crime prevention strategies," she said.

Tips on avoiding crime

  • Leeds University reported that almost 57 per cent of student burglaries in 2007 took place through an open door or window. Lock up whenever you go out and use deadbolts if you have them.
  • Be careful who you let into your halls of residence. If someone tries to gain entry who you haven’t seen before, alert security. Yes, they could be someone visiting a friend, but better safe than sorry.
  • Thieves are after an easy target. Try and walk in groups if possible, and always look as though you know where you are going when walking alone – even if you don’t!
  • If you know you will be going out at night, try to withdraw cash for the evening during the day, and always protect your pin when you are at a cashpoint.
  • Be vigilant about where and when you use your mobile phone. If your phone is stolen, call your network immediately to stop anyone being able to use it.
  • Protect yourself with home insurance, and keep a lists of the make, model and serial numbers of your electronic items to help police track them down if they are stolen.