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How to help prevent theft: a guide for university students

For any new student, moving away to university is an exciting time. With the prospect of learning new skills and making new friends just around the corner, there is so much to look forward to. But alongside all of the excitement, there might be some nerves around leaving home for the first time and handling the increase in personal responsibilities.

For any new student, moving away to university is an exciting time. With the prospect of learning new skills and making new friends just around the corner, there is so much to look forward to. But alongside all of the excitement, there might be some nerves around leaving home for the first time and handling the increase in personal responsibilities.

As students begin this new chapter in their lives, there should be a particular emphasis placed on personal safety. The typical student lifestyle can make young adults more vulnerable to crimes like theft, particularly when the insurance policy of mum and dad's help is taken away.

With multiple students living under the same roof, there’s likely to be a number of high-value goods within the household – potentially more so than in a standard family home. Whereas families might share possessions like televisions, games consoles and computers, students will each have their own valuables that can be targeted by thieves and easily sold on if stolen.

The student population is also more likely to be new to living independently. They may take shortcuts when it comes to personal security, or be unaware of the steps needed to keep their stuff secure. Taking the time to educate yourself on practical ways to stay safe at university will stand you in good stead for the next three years and for the rest of your life.

There are lots of precautions you can take to ensure you are protecting yourself and your peers. And, in the case that you do fall prey to theft, we’ve also got tips on how best you can cover yourself and your belongings to manage the impact.

University crime statistics

Unfortunately, when it comes to information on crime at UK universities, students and parents have been left in the dark for many years. Currently, only four out of 143 UK universities publish statistics on campus and university-related crime. As a result, there have been calls by student bodies for institutions to make this data publicly available. This would allow both students and parents to make more well-informed choices when selecting their place of study.

With so few universities currently publishing these statistics, how can you get a better understanding of how safe you will feel in your new surroundings? League tables are published each year to show crime rates in university towns and cities across the UK, and these can be useful in highlighting the risks associated with a particular area. Whilst the data concerns criminal activity amongst the entire community, not just students, it gives you an idea on whether or not crime is a particular issue in places students are likely to be living.

According to data provided by the Complete University Guide, Harper Adams University in Newport has been deemed the safest place to study in the UK, with just 21 incidents per 1,000 people in the surrounding area in 2020. The table below shows the top ten safest universities in the UK according to their rankings.

Incidents per 1,000 residents

Institution Robbery Burglary Violence and Sexual offences Total
Harper Adams  0.1 3.7 17.3 21.0
Falmouth 0.2 2.0 21.3 23.5
Royal Agriculatural University 0.7 5.4 18.6 24.7
York 0.3 3.9 21.3 25.5
Buckingham 0.6 3.1 21.9 25.7
Rose Bruford college 1.2 6.2 18.3 25.8
Bath 1.0 5.3 20.7 27.0
Royal Holloway 1.2 6.1 20.8 28.0
St Mary's 2.0 6.2 20.9 29.1
Warwick 1.1 5.4 22.7 29.2

Moving to university

For the majority of new students, going to university will be the first time you’ve been away from home for a long period of time. Moving away to university brings with it countless challenges and new experiences, particularly during the first few months.

There is so much to think about, from adapting to a new timetable to juggling social commitments. With so many added responsibilities, it can be easy to neglect certain aspects of your new life which should be at the top of your list of priorities.

Personal security is important when moving away from home, and it should be at the forefront of your thinking throughout your time at university. In fact, studies show that young adults aged 16-24 are the most susceptible age group to household burglaries.

You’ll find that many of the duties taken on by mum or dad will suddenly fall to you. Filing important documents, managing your money and keeping your home safe will be just some of the responsibilities you’ll soon have to take on. As daunting as this may seem, there is lots of available information for new students to help with the transition to university life.

Finding a safe student property

One of the first decisions you make at university will be finding your accommodation. Amongst all of the considerations that go into choosing your student accommodation, security should be of high priority. Particularly in your later years when you’re more likely to be living off campus, it’s important to factor in how safe you will feel in any new potential home.

Campus halls

As a fresher (first year student), you’ll probably be living in halls with a group of complete strangers. Whilst you can’t account for other students’ behaviour, you can take certain precautions to avoid any incidents occurring whilst living in shared accommodation.

Fire doors typically come as standard in university accommodation, meaning they’ll automatically close behind you whenever you leave a room. But this doesn’t mean your room is secure. Whenever you leave your room, even if you’re just socialising in the kitchen or a friend’s bedroom, lock your door behind you and be mindful of what belongings you leave on show.
Beyond choosing your preferred building, your living conditions in the first year will largely be decided for you by your university. This includes who your flatmates are and which room or floor you’re allocated to. However, if you have any major concerns after settling into your new accommodation, it’s important to raise these as early as possible with the university.

Moving off campus

When moving into your off-campus student property, typically in your second year, there is a greater level of personal responsibility when it comes to your safety. Whilst you’re still a student, the luxuries of security’s spare keys and self-locking flat doors are removed. However, efforts to stay safe off campus should begin long before you receive the keys to your new digs.

  • Research the town or city you’re moving to. It can be useful to look into crime rates and statistics about the university’s surrounding town or city to give you an insight into the overall picture. Studies show that cities with a cluster of universities like Manchester typically tend to see higher burglary rates than towns or cities with just one institution. If this is a cause for concern, be sure to check the latest crime statistics for local neighbourhoods in the area, and use these to inform your decision when house hunting.

    It can be tempting to take shortcuts, be it on your commute time or cost of rent. However, particularly when you’re living somewhere new and unfamiliar, it is important to feel safe in your surroundings and this should be a big part of the house hunting process.
  • Inspect potential properties. Viewing prospective properties in person will be the best way to get a sense of how secure you will feel in any given home or area. Be sure to ask the landlord about any additional security features such as internal locks, bike storage or even the alarm system in place.
  • Talk to current and former tenants. If possible, speaking to existing tenants is another way to glean a better insight into the security levels in the surrounding area and at the property itself. They will be able to divulge if they’ve experienced or witnessed any issues in regards to their security, and even how cooperative the landlord was in such an event.

Keeping your student property secure

Beyond the common security threats in any community, students might find themselves more at risk than the general population due to their lifestyle and living situation. There are many opportunities for theft to occur within a student house. Here are some examples of how students might be more at risk.

  • House parties and gatherings. They are the pillars of any student’s social life, but house parties can create an opportunity for crime to occur. When hosting a social gathering with large numbers, particularly with people you don’t necessarily know too well, try to keep people in common areas and away from personal spaces. Keep valuables out of sight and ideally locked away in bedrooms or other safe rooms.
  • Reading weeks and holidays. Burglars will often look for signs that no one’s in, which puts students at particular risk. As the academic year at university is only short, you will spend a lot of time back at home, particularly during reading weeks and holidays. At these times, it is important to take additional measures before leaving an empty home.

    Make sure all windows and doors are locked, and consider taking any high-value items with you. If you are expecting any parcels to arrive in the post in your absence, ask for them to be delivered to your neighbour. Leaving parcels in plain sight tells a burglar that no one is in and the home could contain expensive items.
  • Effects of alcohol. Alcohol can seriously affect people’s judgement and awareness levels. When drinking, it’s even more important to stay alert and aware of your surroundings. Double check before leaving your home that the house is secure, and any valuables are stored away out of sight.

    Anytime you leave your property, be sure to keep keys and wallets in a safe place on your person. In your first year, you will have the safety net of the security team who will give you access to your flat in the event you’ve misplaced your keys. When living off campus, you’re on your own, so be sure that you and your housemates remain vigilant at all times.

Theft prevention across campus

Whilst you can never eliminate the threat of crime completely, there are measures that students can take to reduce the chance of becoming a victim of theft.

Institutions across the country are using digital services to encourage greater levels of communication between the student community and their security teams. There are many apps available to students which are used in conjunction with universities designed to help keep them safe:

  • Your university’s app. This will be your instruction manual in the early days of university. It will typically contain information about how to get around campus, advice on student life, and any emergency contact details for university security or local authorities. Some universities’ apps will also offer an online chat service to offer additional support should you need it. If your university doesn’t have an app, you’ll be able to find all this information online.
  • SafeZone. Designed mainly for use on university campuses across the UK, the app can be used to alert security teams about an emergency. You can also use it to check-in to a location, in addition to the ‘help call’ function to request an escort home or report suspicious activity.
  • bSafe. A popular app in and out of universities, bSafe can be used hands-free to alert preset friends and guardians of an emergency situation. The live stream function can record both audio and video in real-time which will be sent to your contacts, meaning the information won’t be lost even if your phone is stolen.

Especially whilst living on campus, it is important you know how to contact your university’s security team in case of an emergency. Save the number in your phone and encourage your flatmates and friends to do the same.

Beyond encouraging use of these apps, universities are taking more steps to promote student safety whilst living on campus. For example, some universities now invite police officers to attend the freshers’ fair at the start of each year to advise students around personal security.

Campus crime

Theft at university doesn’t just happen within accommodation or on nights out. There are many different scenarios where theft could potentially happen in day-to-day student life.

  • Library. Most university libraries will require some form of student ID to gain access, meaning they’re off limits to members of the public. Whilst this acts as a form of protection against crime, you should still take certain precautions when using campus facilities.

    When visiting the university library, should you need to step outside, ask a friend to look after your belongings rather than putting your faith in a stranger. If you are on your own, you should take any valuables with you rather than risk leaving them behind and having them taken.
  • Study space is a precious commodity within university libraries throughout the academic year, but particularly during exam season. When you find a desk for yourself, it can be tempting to leave a laptop behind to reserve your spot. This will leave your belongings vulnerable to theft, so be sure to pack up whenever you step away from your desk for any length of time.
  • Societies and sports clubs. Consider other times in general university life when you may be leaving valuables unsupervised, such as during sports sessions. In this case, it’s advisable to keep your phone in a bag that’s in sight at all times, rather than in a changing room or team bus.

Whilst most university facilities will be secure from members of the public entering, sporting events are one time you will likely be more exposed to public risk when taking part in university activities. Particularly when you’re travelling between universities, and potentially playing in public spaces, it’s important not to lose track of your personal belongings.

Think carefully about what you take

As you begin your new adventure at university, it can be tempting to take your entire collection of personal belongings with you. From jewellery to the latest games console, you will want to take the things that best show off your personality as you meet lots of potential new friends. However, particularly in the early terms, it is important to avoid the temptation to pack up your entire bedroom from home.

  • Leave behind high-risk items. When packing up your possessions before heading off to uni, consider leaving particularly valuable items at home, which are more commonly targeted by thieves. Items like expensive jewellery can be top of a burglar’s wish list, so your finest jewellery box will be best left at home. Cash is another item at high risk of theft, so try to get into the habit of using a card to pay for things instead of carrying sums of cash around.
  • Safe storage options for expensive items. There will be some high-value items you can’t be without. In this case, consider the options for safe storage in and around your home. If you need to take your car, for example, will you have access to a locked garage, or will you need to park on the street? Research your options before moving out to best protect yourself and your items from theft.

Advice to reduce the impact of crime

In the event that you become a victim of crime, it’s reassuring to know you have taken the necessary precautions to limit the potential damages. Being the victim of a robbery or theft can be very upsetting. However, it is possible to lessen the impact by taking several measures before moving to university.

  • Keep an inventory. It can be useful to make a digital note of any valuable items so they are easier to track in the event they are stolen. One website that’s recommended for students is Immobilise, which allows you to register personal items into their database. These details are then shared with police, so if anything is stolen, the information you provide will be used to retrieve the items.
  • Mark high-value items with a UV pen. Whilst this can be useful advice in general life, it remains particularly important for students who will be moving their belongings around a lot during their university years. By noting your details on valuable items like laptops and phones, you will be aiding the police to help with the recovery process.
  • Take out an insurance policy. Another important precaution you should take before leaving home is taking out an appropriate insurance policy. Studies have shown that over half of the student population who fall victim to theft or burglary are not adequately covered by insurance.

    Insurance might not be top of your list of priorities as you start your university adventure. But, sorting your policy early will give you the best protection against having to weigh out large amounts of money if you were to become the victim of theft.

    Since there are so many different types of cover available to students, it is important to do your research to find the right policy for you and your lifestyle. For instance, most standard student home contents policies will cover most personal belongings like furniture, appliances and books.

    However, there will be some items that are classed as ‘high-value’, such as laptops or jewellery, which might require an additional level of cover. Take the time to investigate different policies to ensure your possessions are fully covered.


In the event you become the victim of theft, it is important to have the necessary contacts to hand. In any emergency situation, contact the police on 999. When an emergency response is not required, call 101 to report the theft. This can be used in circumstances such as bike theft. If you’re unsure whether or not police assistance is needed, contact your university’s security team. They will be able to assess the situation and get you the necessary support.

Useful links

Facts and figures about levels of theft amongst students

Guide to staying safe at university

Bike theft statistics within UK universities

Article calling on universities to put campus crime statistics in the public domain

Top tips for parents to pass on to their children heading to university

Guide to burglary rates in the UK’s most affected university towns and cities