Freshers' week: Drinking culture & risky behaviour - students' first university experience set to change

The student experience may be kicking off for young people in very different fashion compared to the past
Freshers Week 2022 kicked off on Sunday, September 18.Freshers Week 2022 kicked off on Sunday, September 18.
Freshers Week 2022 kicked off on Sunday, September 18.

University is a time of growth, experience, learning and - of course - a good time. But what exactly having a 'good time' at university means appears to be changing.

If you graduated five to 10 years ago (like myself), this probably included late nights at bars and clubs - coming home bleary-eyed and not remembering much the next day. Only to do it all again.

Well, there appears to be an emerging new culture at universities, and it's one that is taking a step back from these kinds of experiences for young adults.

As someone who studied in a pretty diverse university in the mid-2010s, I can probably count on one hand the number of students I formed friendships with who didn't see drinking as a big part of university life. But this attitude is apparently changing.

Many students sadly experience violence and abuse at university - and a lot of this could be attributed to alcohol.

Students during Manchester University's freshers week back in 2009  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)Students during Manchester University's freshers week back in 2009  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Students during Manchester University's freshers week back in 2009 (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The Unsafe Spaces report from 2020 estimated an annual average of 50,000 incidents of sexual abuse and harassment at universities in England and Wales.

This could be a contributing factor to why statistics are showing a shift in student behaviours. A 2018 study by the National Union of Students (NUS) found that one in five students were teetotal, and a 2019 study by University College London showed that 36% of 16-24-year-olds in full-time education do not touch alcohol.

Some students like Jade Harris at Nottingham Trent University have spoken about how memory loss and pressures around drinking led to her becoming sober at university.

Alcohol-free accommodation has also been made available to students in recent years too.

In 2019, Universities UK – which represents 140 British institutions – urged its members to educate students about the dangers of initiations and excessive drinking.

This came after the death of Ed Farmer. The 20-year-old died in his first term at Newcastle University in 2016 after attending a society initiation where rounds of 100 triple vodkas were ordered.

Binge drinking is a problem and data this year from Drinkaware has found that 16 to 24-year-olds in Scotland were among the most likely to engage in binge drinking.

And all of this has led to many universities rebranding Freshers' Week as Welcome Week to move away from drinking culture and risky behaviours.

Instead of pub crawls and nightclub events, many universities are planning different events this year.

At the University of Stirling, new undergraduates can take part in pizza and board game nights, bingo, and gardening sessions.

The University of Edinburgh Student Association is hosting its first Welcome Week, reminding participants on its website: "We do not use 'Freshers' terminology. All official content and events will be under the banner 'Welcome Week'."

Of course, many will still take up drinking-related activities at university - but, it seems, many attitudes are beginning to change.

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