Education Quandary

Should universities start students off with late nights, drink and the expense of freshers' week?
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Hilary's advice

From the great distance of parenthood, a week-long orgy of three-legged pub crawls and caveman parties simply seems to pander to the idea that "uni" is mainly about sex and drink and rock'n'roll. And, if the nights of freshers' week seem wild, the days seem oddly reminiscent of school. Do young adults really want to be shepherded around in coaches to go go-karting and ice-skating?

Apparently, they do. Most students say that freshers' week is brilliant. It breaks the ice, helps you to find your way around, and allows you to meet plenty of new people.

But couldn't that just as easily be done - as it used to be - with a societies' fair and a few low-key bar parties in student halls? Today's freshers' weeks seem to have become bloated with commercial pressures (local clubs and attractions want students through their doors), and laden with myths about how "mental" things have to get to have a good time.

The result is a week that cranks up the pressure to have communal fun, even on those who would like to take time finding their feet. Shy students can feel intimidated, insecure ones can spend a fortune buying drinks, vulnerable ones can wake up in too many strange beds, and immature ones can overdo it all round.

Having said that, parents have had 18 years or more to equip their offspring to meet life's pressures, so it is as much up to them as it is to the universities what happens to their children as they embark on this first round of student life.

Readers' advice

Freshers' week is a thousand times more tame than people imagine. Things get exaggerated through bravado and boasting. Student unions, aware of the dangers of excessive drinking and sexually transmitted diseases, give out advice accordingly. Anyway, our society revolves around sex and drinking. Why should students be expected to have higher standards?

Matthew Kirkenshaw, Manchester

Freshers' week gives students a chance to orient themselves and acclimatise, make friends and join clubs. For most, it's their first time away from home and if some want to abuse that freedom, it's beyond the universities' control.

Without telling your daughter what to do, you could try tackling the issue indirectly by working out a budget with her so that she knows in advance what she has to play with each week to stay within limits.

Becky Allen, Devon

I wonder what your reader imagines the remit of a university to be? It is unlikely that the university itself is encouraging students to get run-down from late nights and drinking; rather that these will arise from events organised by student organisations, and from the natural desire of new students to get to know their peers and exploit the freedom of living away from home for the first time.

Your reader can remind her daughter of the pernicious effects of alcohol and the dangers that can arise for a young woman, particularly in a new place with unfamiliar people, when she is under the influence.

Juliette Chrisman, London SW11

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary,

I am a primary-school teacher and my 11-year-old pupils get good results in their key-stage tests. I don't teach in a particularly good area, nor am I an exceptional teacher, but I feel well-equipped to do the job, and so do most of my colleagues. So why do the national results at 14 remain so poor?

Send your advice or quandary to Hilary Wilce, to arrive no later than Monday 2 October at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack of a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser