It's Time to Take Student Safety Seriously | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

It’s Time to Take Student Safety Seriously

Following the news of a death of a student at Worcester, Holly Pittaway urges Universities to reconsider student safety

People often have a very idealistic view of Freshers – social media tells us that it’s a week full of fun, friends, and alcohol-fuelled festivities. The events are pricey but we’re told that it will all be worth it for the best week of your life, a time you’ll look back on with fond memories as you progress through your university career. But while all this is going on, we seem to forget about the most important thing – our safety.

Social media tells us that it’s a week full of fun, friends, and alcohol-fuelled festivities

The issue of student safety during Freshers’ week (and in general) has been cast into the public eye recently after the country was shocked by the disappearance of Thomas Jones, a first-year at the University of Worcester. Jones had been at University for just three days when he went missing in the early hours of 19th September while walking back to his accommodation after a Freshers event held at Velvet Nightclub. Following his disappearance, West Mercia Police arrested two men on suspicion of murder in connection with a missing university student, however, the identities of these men were never made public, and they were released from police custody on 24th September with no charges. A few days later, a body was recovered from the River Severn, a body that was confirmed to be Thomas Jones.

This news is tragic and unexpected, but Jones’ case is not an isolated incident. In 2016, a Birmingham Fresher, Matthew Coe, was killed after sustaining multiple injuries from a drunken fall from a city centre tower block. Coe had recently enrolled at the University of Birmingham to study Biological Science and was enjoying Freshers’ week with his new flatmates when the incident happened. On the night in question, Coe and his friends were planning to go to Pryzm, however, when they arrived on Broad Street the rest of the group decided to give the club a miss and head back to their flat while Coe remained in the queue alone. Due to his intoxicated state, the student was refused entry, but rather than go home, he somehow ended up at Trident House in Granville Square where he would later suffer a fatal fall from the 17th floor after kicking through its window. While the full details of the Thomas Jones case have not yet been released, these two incidents to me seem eerily similar; and tragically, both were preventable.

These two incidents to me seem eerily similar; and tragically, both were preventable

When we arrive at university, it’s our first time being independent – we live away from our families, cook our own meals, and are suddenly thrust into a heavy drinking culture with no consequences (apart from a hangover the next day) – but does that mean we should also be left to fend for ourselves? While university life is all about developing a sense of self and freedom, the fact of the matter is our institutions still have a duty of care to uphold, and in my own personal experience, this duty of care has often been allowed to slide. During my Freshers’ week in 2017, I seldom felt like my safety was a top priority for the university, and although the Freshers’ events I went to were fairly secure, there were rarely any older student representatives or university officials present to oversee the carnage. Considering Birmingham is known for its high crime rates (especially around the university area) I find it shocking that so many 18-19 year olds are regularly allowed to party uninhibited without proper supervision.

I seldom felt like my safety was a top priority for the university

Worcester has already begun to improve student safety, during this past week it announced plans to extend a scheme which allows students to be taken home for free by taxis in the early hours of the morning. While the scheme has been run for several years during Freshers’ week, following Jones’ disappearance, it was announced that it would continue after Freshers in order to reassure its students that the university had their safety in mind. Whether the scheme will become more permanent is yet to be seen, however, it’s definitely a good start and I would encourage all universities (especially those in cities with a high crime rate, such as Birmingham) to follow suit.

With the investigation into Thomas Jones’ death still going on, it’s important not to let the case be forgotten. My thoughts go out to Jones’ family and friends, and many have extended their sympathies both online and in-person, with a candlelit vigil being held on Sunday at the Sabrina Bridge, where Thomas went missing, in the boy’s memory. But while this is a terrible situation, perhaps it will provide universities throughout the country with the incentive to change the way they do Freshers, and to start taking their duty of care over tens of thousands of vulnerable youngsters more seriously.

2nd year History student and professional Peep Show enthusiast.


16th October 2018 at 7:00 am

Last Updated

18th October 2018 at 1:56 pm

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Philip Halling