Association of University Chief Security Officers COO Julie Barker on resolving security challenges

July 3, 2023


Association of University Chief Security Officers (AUSCO) Chief Operating Officer, Julie Barker charts a varied career and outlines the challenges facing her sector.

Association of University Chief Security Officers: A summary

Association of University Chief Security Officers (AUSCO) is the association for security professionals working in universities and colleges across the world, including Canada, Australia, US and UAE. 

Current members represent 22 countries, including Eton College and Oxford and Cambridge Universities in the UK.

SJUK posed the questions.

Tell us a little about yourself …

I was born and brought up in Yorkshire during the time of the strikes (eldest of four, two sisters and a brother), so when I was at school, I decided I didn’t want to leave and go into a manual job against such a backdrop of shortages. The industry in the north was decimated and the career choices were nil where I lived, so I looked around for something that would guarantee me a career.

What was your first job?

I realised there would always be a job in the food industry because people will always need feeding. A classically trained chef, my first paid job was in the NHS (hospital chef), but prior to that I worked voluntarily for the WRVS in meals on wheels from the age of 14.  Spent my teenage years living in a pub where my Mum and stepfather were publicans.

I trained to become a licensed house manager with Bass, and then later moved to London with Trusthouse Forte.

Meanwhile, my sister and parents had moved to the south coast. When a job came up at University of Brighton as a relief catering officer, I saw it as a way to get closer to my family, so I applied and got it.

Then, when the head of my department left a few years later I approached the Deputy Vice Chancellor and said, ‘I would love to have a go at doing this’ and he had faith in me to say, ‘give it a go’. That’s how it started!

My portfolio grew from food and beverage (F&B) to include student accommodation, facilities management, conferences and events, safety and community engagement – I think that’s what kept me at Brighton, the breadth and variety.

What took you into the world of security?

Community engagement took me into the professional security sector, my role covered Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings working across a number of local authorities, councillors and statutory services. 

I led the development and creation of a shared service with Sussex Police, which was hugely beneficial to the student and staff body (a fourth emergency service). 

The variety and continual evolution alongside the voluntary work, offered the stimulation to get involved and engage nationally and Internationally with the professional bodies and industry more.

That Dep VC was my biggest advocate and mentor – I learnt so much from him, I would not be where I am today without his support.

In parallel to joining the University of Brighton I became actively involved in a number of Higher Education professional associations including The University Caterers Organisation (TUCO) and College and University Business Officers (CUBO), become Managing Director and Chair of TUCO, involved in The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) working group on value for money study within Higher Education.

This later resulted in the further development of collective procurement and TUCO becoming recognised within the public sector for its procurement contracts. 

When I was lead, we rebranded and repurposed the organisation, created a World class training academy and developed an accredited Higher Education programme in partnership with London Southbank University. Under my chairmanship, TUCO won an international book award based around supporting Asian students coming to study in the UK.

Was education important to you?

I am passionate about education and sustainability and drove the sustainability agenda leading on accredited programme for higher education with the SRA (Sustainable Restaurants Association). I was Deputy Chair of People 1st Apprenticeship Board, developing apprenticeship programmes for the industry.

I was recognised by my peers winning two Catey awards (Oscars for the Industry), two lifetime achievement awards from Public Sector Organisation and CUBO for work within the Higher Education sector and Industry. I have also been on the Public Sector Most Influential List for seven years.

I continue today my involvement within education and sustainability, through judging various awards nationally.  I chair the Skills board for SELEP (Southeast Local Enterprise Partnership) visitor economy group, and Trustee for through School and post 16.  Education continues to be hugely important to me.

I am a huge advocate of collaboration, networking and sharing knowledge, Professional Associations are hugely valuable, but you only get out what you put in! 

When did you take up your current AUCSO role?

I took up the role of COO with AUCSO in Autumn of 2021, I felt I was a great fit with my experience within higher education and with professional associations. 

The role of AUCSO is to be the voice of the security industry in higher education, the ‘go-to’ for information and guidance relating to security and safety on (and off) campus. The ambition is to raise the profile of the organisation, review existing and drive further member benefits. 

We will look to develop collaborations and engage with other organisations within the sector and the wider Industry (including statutory services). 

We want to develop relevant research, training, provide guidance, case studies and best practice information alongside developing the regional activities not just within the UK but Internationally.

What are the challenges facing the sector?

Challenges facing our sector are numerous and they continually change and evolve.  We work with predominantly young adults, challenges we face include society pressures, mental health, VAWG (violence against women and girls), harassment, antisocial behaviour, drugs and alcohol, criminal behaviour and the risks relating to terrorism – that is to name but a few!

Some you could describe as the ‘day to day’ part of our role rather than challenges.  Safety (security) teams on campus are more frequently than not first on the scene at any incident, we have tens of thousands of students living and studying on campus, the challenges we face and see on a day-to-day basis are quite often no different than that of the local police service – some campus communities are the size of villages and towns in their own right and need to be staffed by suitably skilled staff to respond appropriately. 

Of course, we also need to recognise and be aware of the subtle difference in the environment and the differing challenges faced by our global member base, the challenges faced in our regions across Europe, Australasia and the UK are all subtly different.

The biggest challenge as I see is the shift over the last 5-10 years from a service that was predominantly seen as the team that ‘secure the doors and set the alarms’ to what now is a very people orientated service. 

Senior staff in higher education institutions need to ensure that safety and security is at the forefront of the strategy for the organisation and the student experience, and that Heads/Directors of Safety/Security are represented at a senior level to ensure the organisation is informed, relevant investment is in place, risk is analysed and mitigated.  Safety and support is at the forefront of the minds of not just the student, but also the parents and carers when making their university choices, VC’s need to ask themselves is it at theirs?

Will Martyn’s Law affect your members?

Yes, very much so…Universities are complex places with accommodation blocks, health facilities, bars, café and retail facilities, together with sports and nightclubs.  Some operated by the university, some owned by the university, and some not. 

As the lead body, we have been in discussion with both Department of Education and the Home Office and regarding the complex environment of higher education institutions, we like others await to see what the legislation looks like and how the legislation responds to the complex environment. 

How do you hope to shape AUSCO into the future?

Shaping the future – raising the profile of the association, developing collaborations, harnessing ‘good practice’, voice leadership, training programmes that meet the needs of our members.  Immediately – Website re-fresh, developing our partnerships, road trip to meet our members to understand what they want from their association – what would add value, and what are their concerns and challenges. 

Benchmarking/research piece (supported by a sponsor) relating to shape and size of services currently provided.

Challenges going forward for the sector include skills shortage, the need to re-frame skills we require within higher education, with an emphasis on soft skills. 

Support from external services (whether that be mental health services, police, or the NHS) this remains a challenge. 

The use of technology to support our services is both a challenge and an opportunity that should be debated at a senior level within Higher Education Institutions.

More UK Security News

Read Next