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International Security Journal speaks exclusively with Les Allan, Executive Chairman of the Association of University Chief Security Officers.

Just as in all other aspects of life, the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the higher education sector. Students were sent home from their universities when the pandemic first hit and have only been allowed back into limited face-to-face lectures in recent months. The crisis also took its toll on the number of international students who were allowed to travel to the UK to continue their education.

This has undoubtedly created a challenging environment for universities as a whole but especially so for their security teams, which must now be cognisant of COVID-19 protocols as well as the usual security risks.

International Security Journal caught up with Les Allan, Executive Chairman of the Association of University Chief Security Officers (AUCSO) to find out his vision for the development of the association as well as some of the latest developments in campus security.

Going digital

As the Executive Chairman of AUCSO, Les Allan has ambitious plans to extend membership across the globe. The association already plays a vital role in fostering collaboration between 234 higher education leaders in four continents and now, during his tenure, Allan aspires to extend that influence further, promoting higher standards in what has become an important branch of the security profession – expanding in the Americas, the Middle East and South-East Asia.

It’s a personal mission for Allan and he brings to it the same energy that he has applied to transforming security at Heriot-Watt University’s five international campuses. Here, as Director of Safeguarding Services, he has been an inspirational team leader, building on his 44-years’ service in the police, government and senior security roles.

Following his appointment as Executive Chairman of AUCSO, Allan said: “I feel honoured and also extremely excited to take up this position. I see my two-year tenure bringing in a number of changes to the association as well as modernising the way it operates.

“I think the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a lot, especially around the importance of having a digital presence. Moving to a more digital environment will add benefits for our membership and enable more interaction and enhanced development.”

Allan is keen to make an impact in his new role and has already laid out a number of strategic aims and objectives for the association: “We have initiated a series of projects to take forward our strategic objectives. It’s mostly about interaction between members and making the most of the expertise they have.

“We intend to provide online training programmes which will benefit our international members and we have recently introduced a newsletter to keep our membership more up-to-date.”

He added: “Of course, our main target area is to increase our membership. We shouldn’t be an insular organisation; we may be specialists in higher education security, but we are part of the wider global security community. Therefore, we need to engage more with other associations as I feel we have a lot to contribute but there is also a lot we can learn from them.”

One area identified by Allan and his team to help them increase their membership numbers is by growing the number of international members they have. He explained: “We are going to reach out to more universities and similar associations across Europe to see if they would be interested in merging with our network. We have also identified the Middle East as a region of interest as there are many universities in the UK, USA and Australia which have campuses in the Middle East.”

Adding value

It has been an extremely challenging period for universities with the COVID-19 pandemic creating a series of problems for them to overcome. Allan believes that tighter budgets will be one of the main obstacles facing sector security teams in the coming months: “Every Tertiary Education Institution and pretty much every employer are going to face challenges in terms of budget and reduced income.

“Tertiary Education security services will need to show how they can add value to their institution, enhance their own reputation management and make better use of existing resources. I think we will all be in competition with other internal services to secure financial resources from senior management and budget holders.”

He continued: “Another big challenge that was highlighted by the pandemic is that security teams need to collaborate more with other services within their institutions. We need to become more embraced in the wellbeing agenda, rather than sticking to the traditional vision of security being just about asset protection and property management. We are there to serve our students, without them, we don’t have a university or college.”

The task of protecting thousands of students and staff as well as assets, property and reputation can seem a little daunting to institutions but Allan is quick to point out that membership of AUCSO can make a huge difference: “Joining AUCSO will enable each institution to register between four and six of their own staff as association members. This will provide them with access to our extensive portfolio of resources, training programmes, webinars and operational procedures.

“AUCSO is all about collaboration, information sharing and mutual support. I am a big believer that every security service in every institution does at least one thing better than everybody else, therefore we should collate and share that information to improve the professionalism of our service delivery.”

For more information on AUCSO, please visit www.aucso.org

This article was originally published in the June 2021 edition of International Security Journal. To read your FREE digital copy of the magazine, click here.

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