University challenge for students who like a drink

By Rob Willock

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Alcoholic beverage University

Rob Willock: "The NUS seems simply to be trying to apply heavier brakes to a juggernaut that is already slowing down"
Rob Willock: "The NUS seems simply to be trying to apply heavier brakes to a juggernaut that is already slowing down"
I see that my alma mater, the University of Nottingham, is one of the seven higher-education institutions that are taking part in a pilot scheme to “create a social norm of responsible alcohol consumption by students”.

The programme — run by the National Union of Students (NUS) and funded by the Home Office — will “help participating universities to encourage responsible drinking, leading to safer and more productive places to study and live”.

It’s a laudable ambition on the face of it, but it does rather conflict with my memories of the undergraduate lifestyle.


Let me rewind 23 years to 1991, and the start of the summer holidays ahead of my first year at university. I was very excited at the prospect of leaving home and fending for myself in a city cleverly (but falsely) marketed as a place with a population ratio of five women to every man.

Your classic rugger bugger, I had — in the preceding years — built up an impressive immunity to the effects of ‘session’ drinking, and fully intended to use this new-found superpower to my advantage at uni.

So imagine my dismay if, on the cusp of my arrival from the Home Counties into the East Midlands, with its cheap beer and legendary nightlife, I had found out that the University of Nottingham was taking steps to ensure that “the student union does not have any licensed premises”; and that there was co-ordinated “action to tackle student participation in commercial pub crawls and drinking games”.

Instead of signing up at freshers’ week to Cock Soc (Cocktail Society, in case you wondered) and CAMRA (for its legendary on-campus beer festivals), I’d have discovered that “contemporary student identity is based on responsible alcohol consumption” and that the university had developed a “café culture alternative to alcoholic spaces”.

I was all about the alcoholic spaces, if I’m honest. And I wasn’t alone.


Now maybe modern students are different beasts to the party animals of previous generations. Certainly anecdotal evidence from student-bar operators suggest they take their studies more seriously these days (well, you would if you were paying £9,000 a year in tuition fees) and tend to have fewer nights out.

We also know from official statistics that the percentage of people in the UK who drink regularly — across all demographics — is in long-term decline.

There is no new alcohol crisis in the student population. The NUS seems simply to be trying to apply heavier brakes to a juggernaut that is already slowing down.

And sadly it is doing so in a wrong-headed manner.

The criteria for the scheme’s accreditation (which it is claimed “should become a badge of honour for universities”) go for the easy wins of restricting alcohol consumption in the on-trade — where student drinking is supervised — while doing nothing meaningful to tackle dangerous preloading and harmful drinking of cheap supermarket booze in student digs.


This looks suspiciously like people who enjoyed their university days telling today’s scholars to take their studies and their health more seriously than they did. And it also appears to be a cynical attack on pubs and bars, while off-licences get away scot-free.

“Come to the University of Nottingham, with its ratio of five coffee shops to every one bar.”

Er, no thanks — I’m off to Bristol, where I won’t be made to feel guilty for having a few pints.

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