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Controlling Physical Access—Considerations for Higher Education

September 16, 2016

Increasingly, higher education institutions are choosing to set up physical access controls across their campuses.

Such controls involve issuing access cards to those who need them, and installing readers or other infrastructure on doors and entrances.

Access for higher education

Making such a change is crucial to future-proofing campuses and providing the expected level of care and service.

But why?

1. Higher Education institutions have a duty of care

In today’s world, the need to control access across a Higher Education site is more important than ever. There is a duty of care to keep students and staff safe, and institutions may wish to control access to main entrances, lecture theatres, tutorial rooms, libraries, offices, open areas or halls of residence.

Creating a perception of strong security is also invaluable for attracting students and deterring criminals.

It could be that access is controlled 24/7, or that it is only controlled out of hours, or that access is only controlled for safety reasons in buildings such as laboratories or workshops.

Every institution has different requirements and so it is important to fully understand these before looking at implementing controls. 

2. Different access policies can be applied for different groups of people

Students, staff, contractors, people attending a conference and general visitors all have different access needs.

Within those groups, requirements can also be as specific. For example, particular Postgraduate Research personnel may need to have out-of-hours access to a laboratory. The range of possibilities and requirements can easily be tailored with card access systems.

Other customisations also become possible. For example, you may wish to set longer door access times for groups such as wheelchair users, or to automatically unlock all doors in the event that a fire alarm is triggered.

3. It gives you the option to measure footfall

This benefit will be of particular interest to an institution’s Estates and Commercial Services departments. For the first time, they could have access to data on how many people use a particular location, and at what times. The ability to monitor space utilisation and traffic flow can inform a wide variety of decisions such as how to make the best use of available retail or social spaces.

4. Security incidents can be monitored

When access through a door requires a card, systems can alert security staff if there are multiple attempts to try to open a door using card which is not authorised for that location.

Likewise, an ‘audit trail’ showing which cards gave access to a location at a particular time can be invaluable when investigating incidents.

Summary and further thoughts

It is clear that setting up modern access control systems can provide numerous benefits, related not just to security but also to site management and commercial operations.

Of course, the infrastructure requirements involved must also be considered. When door access systems (and quite possibly other safety and security infrastructure such as CCTV and fire alarms) are reliant on your network, it is critical that intense periods of heavy demand will not overwhelm your network and disable these systems.

Update: Have your say for 2018

Is your school struggling with IT integration? How are physical security concerns influencing your IT infrastructure? Put your hand up for the 2018 report and have your say.

The survey collects responses from top educational providers across the UK, resulting in a full report.

Take 10 minutes to contribute your opinion to the report, scheduled for release in early 2018, and gain insights into the challenges faced by education organisations throughout the UK, as reported by the organisations themselves. Use these insights to inform key IT decisions for 2018, improving the state of IT for your education organisation and the pupils it benefits.

State of IT in Education

Topics: Education

Written by Paul Sweeney