One in five university students say they do not drink any alcohol

'High levels of debt and the pressure to do well means many are going out less'

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Monday 24 September 2018 00:10 BST
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More than one in five students say they are teetotal – and the demand for alcohol-free university events and halls is on the rise, a report has found.

The stereotype of students spending most of their time getting drunk is getting further from reality – as students who pay £9,250 a year in fees are swapping expensive boozy nights out for study time, new findings suggest.

Almost a quarter of students believe there should be more social events at university that do not involve any drinking, according to the National Union of Students (NUS) survey, shared exclusively with The Independent.

The findings come as thousands of students arrive at universities across the country for freshers’ week – a period popularly known for heavy drinking, partying and socialising.

But the survey of more than 2,200 university students found that 21 per cent say they do not drink – and more than two-thirds (70 per cent) think students only drink alcohol to fit in with their peers.

The NUS believes the financial pressures facing students – particularly in relation to doing well because they have accrued more debt – are causing the shift in students’ drinking habits.

But universities say a range of factors – including an increased awareness of health and a wider diversity of faiths – have contributed. And a rise in technology has provided an alternative source of entertainment to students, one vice-chancellor has said.

And yet nearly four in five students (79 per cent) still believe that getting drunk is part of university culture – and only one in 10 are aware of responsible drinking activities or campaigns on campus.

A first-year student at the University of Glasgow, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Independent that she drinks very rarely as it too expensive and it is does not interest her.

She said: “I’m not into clubbing which is what most of my Freshers’ events this year were and so I didn’t really go out much.

“It makes for a fairly intimidating calendar if you’re new to university, don’t really drink, and mainly see club nights and pub crawls. It can feel quite isolating.”

Eva Crossan Jory, NUS vice president for welfare, said: “It is clear that students’ drinking habits have changed with a comparative section of the student population not drinking at all.

“While many students are making active decisions about their drinking, it is concerning that university life is still strongly associated with excessive alcohol consumption.”

She added: “The reality for many is that high levels of personal debt and the pressure to do well means many are going out less and studying more.

“The cost-of-living crisis facing students now also means after bills and food it may not be possible for students to spend on other things such as nights out or drinks.”

The NUS says more universities should introduce “inclusive spaces” for teetotal students on campus.

A number of universities and students unions have increased the number of alcohol-free events they run to meet the rising demand – and more are introducing alcohol-free student halls.

The University of St Andrews – which has offered alcohol-free accommodation since 2015 – said it was unable to place all students who requested rooms this year as it is such a popular option.

It plans to expand the halls if demand continues to increase. Student president Paloma Paige, said: “The success of such accommodation is a very positive step towards ensuring that all students have a comfortable and enjoyable accommodation experience when they come to St Andrews.”

Bristol students union has expanded its non-alcohol events programme for freshers’ week after a plant-potting workshop last year was a success. Meanwhile, Leeds students union has introduced classes on how to make pottery and coffee to meet a rising demand for alcohol-free activities,

A Leeds students union spokesperson said: “With the fee rise, students feel more pressure than ever to get a good grade, and put a lot of emphasis on studying.”

“Students don’t want to damage the day after a night out with a hangover, especially if they need to study or just want to enjoy their day,” the spokesperson added.

Sir Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, said the university has also introduced alcohol-free games and karaoke nights, and a range of day trips to cater for the cohort.

He said: “Buckingham is a university that respects the increasing numbers who do not think it necessary to get off their heads as a rite of passage.”

On the reasons behind the trend, Sir Anthony added: “Fewer students go out to the pub and they are more likely to be at their friends’ houses where they won’t necessarily drink alcohol.

“There is a much broader range of entertainment on TV, computers and electronic devices so much more to do rather than just stay in and drink or go to the pub.”

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