Students see Britain as ‘safest place to study’

Students around the world perceive the United Kingdom as the safest place to study, an international survey has found – and Israel is seen as the least safe destination country. The multicultural nature of British society was the main reason cited for its ‘safe’ reputation.

Students from over 80 countries responded to a survey conducted by the British Council, published in a just-released Student Insight report, The Rise in Global Student Safety Concerns.

Additional material was provided from a poll of some 845 students by the online student forum, The Student Room, and it found that Britain, Canada, Germany and New Zealand were perceived as safe.

But there is considerable ambivalence about the United States, which was seen as both one of the safest and one of the least safe destinations.

Almost 40% of those who considered Britain the safest place to study cited the country’s “very multicultural society” as by far the most significant reason for their opinion.

Strict gun ownership laws, good medical care, and a relatively low crime rate also contributed to the UK’s highly safe status.

Elizabeth Shephard, research director for the British Council’s Education Intelligence team, said that while the UK had not been immune to threats against students, “its reputation as a safe study destination has not been tarnished, thanks to immediate and sensitive handling of any incidents.

“It is seen as a country where high priority is given to protecting personal safety.”

Over a quarter of respondents placed Britain top in the safety ratings, with Canada (15%) second, followed by the United States, Germany and New Zealand. Non-UK students ranked Singapore and Germany in fourth and fifth place respectively.

Relatively relaxed gun laws in the US were offset by its multicultural society and high police presence, and this divided student opinion. It was simultaneously placed as the third least safe and the third safest destination.

“The USA is seen as an unsafe place to live while studying due to the prevalence and availability of guns. The high level of street crime and discrimination are also identified as reasons for the country being unsafe,” said the report. Yet a police presence mitigates some of this.

"Unsafe" countries mentioned by international students were Israel, South Africa, India, the United States and Brazil.

Israel was ranked most unsafe due to the perceived threat of terrorist attacks and human rights violations, while South Africa was identified as having a perceived high volume of street crime.

In the UK, The Complete University Guide has for some years published data on the level of crimes likely to be of relevance to students – burglaries, muggings and violence.

This year, for the first time it published a ranking of universities in England and Wales based on the incidence of these crimes within five kilometres (three miles) of campuses.

Bernard Kingston, founder of The Complete University Guide, said: "While these crimes are the three most commonly perpetrated against students, the figures relate to all victims, not just students. Our new methodology allows potential students to assess the risks for individual institutions with much greater precision, at least for England and Wales.”

However, it would be reassuring for students and parents if there were specific data on crimes affecting students, he said. “It is clearly a matter of considerable concern when considering where to study as an undergraduate."

London’s universities were ranked separately because of the city’s high but localised crime rates. Outside London, universities in Manchester and Leeds were ranked least safe.