Sensational new rankings in uni guide – but can the stats be trusted?
The recently published ‘University Crime Table’, which KCL topped, could mislead university applicants, critics have warned. The Complete University Guide, an independent group that provides university rankings tables, posted the data on 22 July. But King’s Professor of Criminology and Law, Elaine Player, warned the table may be of limited use.
“They provide a guide on general levels of crime but are unhelpful if trying to assess who is most at risk,” she said.
The table is not based on crime levels as reported by students. Instead, it uses crime rates per thousand within a three-mile radius of each university. Crimes included in the criteria are burglary, robbery, and violent crime, which covers GBH and sexual assault. According to The Complete University Guide, students are most vulnerable to these offences.
London universities are based in the highest crime zones, according to the table. Seventeen of the top twenty universities with the most crime are in the capital. King’s is closely followed in the table by its rivals LSE and UCL. Kingston University in south-west London scored the best in London. Its total crime rate is less than half of King’s. David Jobbins, consultant to The Complete University Guide, said the table gave prospective students a fuller picture of universities they could apply to.
“It’s meant to give them an indication of the environment they’d be going into if they were to attend that specific university,” he said.
The table uses freely available police data from police.uk, collected between May 2012 and April 2013.
Second year King’s English student Craig McDonald said the table does not account for the fact most London students do not live within three miles of campus.
“In first year I lived in Hampstead, which is over six miles away from the Strand, and in second year I lived at home like many other King’s students,” he said. “I spend a lot of time over three miles away from King’s so these statistics don’t mean a lot to me.”
Jobbins has responded to criticism: “They really are just to encourage students to become prospective students and consider personal security,” he said.
There have been calls for British universities to proactively release numbers on campus crime but they are under no obligation to do so. In the US, universities must provide detailed reports about the amount of crime committed on campus, on non-campus buildings, and on public property around the university. In addition to this, they have an ‘alert system’ whereby students are notified of on-campus crimes via email or text message. Professor Player said the table should be read with caution.
“The data refers to crimes within a three mile radius and it is simplistic to suggest that an individual’s level of risk would be increased because they were passing through that area,” she said.