How are universities tackling spiking? What can be done to keep students safe - drinks covers to panic alarms

NationalWorld contacted universities and Student Unions across the UK to find out what measures they are taking to tackle student spiking.

Universities are taking drastic measures to protect students from spiking, with freshers being given drinks covers, panic alarms and spike testing kits.

It comes after campuses across the UK saw a huge increase in incidents this time last year. Perpetrators were seemingly targeting student areas and events, and a frightening wave of spiking via injection emerged - prompting students to start speaking out about the problem. Some even boycotted university nights out to raise awareness and ensure “the issue of spiking is taken seriously”.

According to the Alcohol Education Trust, spiking cases always surge during the first term of the new academic year. It’s difficult to determine the full scale of the problem, as many spiking incidents go unreported, but the organisation admitted that suspected incidents had reached frightening levels in Autumn 2021.

This came as the National Police Chiefs’ Council revealed in October of last year that there had been 198 spiking incidents, 24 via injection, across the UK in just two months.

Student work app Stint conducted research last year which found four in five students were worried about spiking, which rose to 88% for women.

With students returning to university for a new year, or heading to new cities for the first time to begin their studies, many will be wondering what their institutions are doing to tackle the issue of spiking. NationalWorld contacted a range of universities and Students Unions across the country to ask about the measures they are taking.

Universities are taking action to protect students from spiking. Credit: NationalWorld / Mark Hall

‘We’re distributing spiking testing kits’

Some universities are offering free drinks testing kits inside their venues. The tests take just a few seconds, and look for things such as Ketamine or common ‘date-rape’ drug GHB.

Those who told NationalWorld they would be distributing ‘spiking kits’ in their venues were: the University of Cardiff, University of Exeter, the University of Lincoln, the University of Loughborough, the University of Northumbria and Queen’s Belfast University.

Students at some universities will be able to use kits that test whether a drink has been spiked. Credit: Getty Images

In landmark schemes, Lincoln and Loughborough students who suspect they have been spiked the night before will also be able to take rapid drug tests at the Students’ Union. The University of Loughborough assured students that these kits would never be used to take action against people who may have taken drugs recreationally.

The University of Bristol previously told The Tab they were looking into spiking testing kits.

‘We provide drink protectors and bottle stoppers’

One of the most common courses of action being taken by universities was to provide students with ‘drinks protectors’. These are covers that can be placed over a glass to prevent perpetrators putting something in it.

Some universities will be including these as part of students’ ‘Welcome Kits’, while others have them ready to distribute at campus bars and clubs.

Those who told NationalWorld they would provide drinks protectors were:

  • The University of Bristol
  • The University of Cardiff
  • The University of Exeter
  • The University of Lincoln
  • The University of Loughborough
  • The University of Northumbria
  • The University of Nottingham
  • The University of Oxford
  • The University of Reading
  • The University of Southampton
  • The University of Sussex
Student Unions will be operating increased security at their venues. Credit: Getty Images

‘We’re increasing bag searches’

UK institutions are also upping security in campus venues - and many are working with nightclubs across the city to refine their security practices for student nights out.

The University of Birmingham, the University of Exeter and the University of Sussex are amongst those operating increased bag searches in their venues, in an attempt to stop perpetrators before they have a chance to commit their crime.

The University of Cardiff said for some events, they will occasionally use sniffer dogs at their venues “to support the identification of illegal substances.”

A spokesperson for the University of Sussex commented: “At the Students’ Union, we take reports of potential harm to students very seriously. We have been working with local nightclubs in Brighton on how best to support students.”

The university also hosts a night out with popular club Pryzm, and has been collaborating with sports clubs via its Sports Reps Committee to “hear their safety concerns and work together to make [Pryzm] a safe venue”.

Universities are offering drinks protectors, spiking detection kits and panic alarms to students. Credit: Getty Images

‘We have bystander training schemes’

The University of Exeter, who received praise from Universities UK for its “good practice response”, and the University of Oxford have introduced bystander training.

These schemes help people be aware of the warning signs which indicate someone is planning to spike a victim, and encourage intervention if it is safe to do so. They also aim to challenge conversations or behaviours that may perpetuate unhelpful perceptions on spiking.

Many campaigners have also been calling for universities to introduce bystander intervention training to prevent sexual assault and harassment on campuses.

‘Panic alarms’

The University of Northumbria is giving out panic alarms. Students can collect these in halls or at SU bars and venues.

What else did the universities mention?

Cardiff students can make use of a ‘Safe Taxi Scheme’. The university has partnered with Dragon Taxis to help students get home safely if they have lost their phone or wallet, meaning that “no matter where students are in Cardiff, you can get home safely with just your student card.”

The University of Southampton told NationalWorld that ahead of Freshers’ Week, it had contacted all students with advice about staying safe at university.

A spokesperson also noted: "Our students can report any incident which has affected them, for example, possible instances of spiking, through our Report and Support tool. Every report, which can be anonymous if preferred, is followed up and fully investigated.”

The University of Bristol noted that it operates the ‘Ask For Angela’ scheme at all of its bars.

Universities UK has encouraged institutions across the UK to take action on spiking. Credit: Getty Images

All universities emphasised that students’ safety was “the top priority” and they had a no-tolerance approach to spiking. The University of Nottingham stressed it would take “swift action”, such as expulsion, against perpetrators, and will support the police in investigations.

Universities UK, the ‘collective voice of universities across the UK’, has urged all universities to take action.

The organisation said: “Spiking incidents are serious crimes of poisoning. They can be life-threatening, and have lasting impacts on students who experience it and on their friends who witness it.

“The threat of spiking happening restricts the ability for students (predominantly, but not only women) to socialise – freely and without fear – as part of their student experience.”

NationalWorld also contacted the University of Bath, University of Cambridge, University of Durham, University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow, University of Leeds, University of Manchester, University of Warwick, and University College London for comment.