Top universities will have to admit fewer middle class students if they are to meet vital diversity quotas, according to higher education regulator Office for Students (OfS)Written by Emily Darby on 19th March 2019
News Analysis: Alcohol Consumption at University
News Writer Alice Wibberley compares UoB students’ attitudes to alcohol to a recent NUS survey
A recent National Union of Students (NUS) survey has revealed the attitudes to drinking of 2,215 students. Redbrick has also conducted a survey, reaching 150 respondents, to see how the University of Birmingham compares.
Students have always been associated with excessive consumption of alcohol, and this has been reflected in both the NUS survey and the survey filled out by students at the University of Birmingham. 79% of those surveyed across Britain by the NUS agreed that drinking is a part of university culture, and 76% said there was an expectation for students to drink and get drunk. At UoB, 91% also agreed that drinking was a part of university culture, with 47% of those ‘strongly agreeing’ that university life and drinking culture are linked. In total, only 8% of UoB students disagreed to this association.
In response to the data collected by the survey, NUS Vice President of Welfare Eva Crossan Jory said it is ‘concerning that university life is still strongly associated with excessive alcohol consumption’, and drinking practices recorded by both surveys illustrate the prominence of alcohol within universities.
Redbrick’s survey revealed that the most popular practice amongst students was to drink between once and twice a week, with 56% choosing this option. A further 25% said they drink three to four times every week. These figures show higher levels of drinking at UoB compared to 23% of respondents to the NUS survey, who said they drink two to three times a week. Only 2% of NUS respondents said they would drink ‘most days’, or ‘every day’, but those who recorded drinking between five to seven days per week at UoB were at 7%.
Eva Crossan Jory noted an increase in the amount of students choosing not to drink, with 21% of respondents to the NUS survey saying they did not drink at all (or have stopped drinking). She puts this down to financial reasons and increased ‘pressure to do well’ – meaning that students have less money and time to spend on drinking and going out. The figure for UoB for non-drinkers was far lower, at 12%. This could be down to the demographic of students reached by the survey – it was posted in the ‘Fab n Fresh’ Facebook page, and so reached mainly students interested in attending the weekly night out at the Guild and other events involving alcohol around Birmingham.
There was some imbalance between figures for drinking and getting drunk. Although 25% of respondents to the UoB drinking survey said they drink three to four times every week, the figure dropped to 13% when asked how many days a week students got drunk. Furthermore, 25% of UoB students said they did not get drunk at all, even though only 12% said they did not drink. The most popular response was that students got drunk once or twice per week, with 61% selecting this response.
It is clear from both survey results that the link between alcohol and ease of socialising is a key factor for consumption of alcohol at university. At UoB, 72% of students agreed that alcohol helped them be more sociable, 27% of these ‘strongly agreeing’ with the link. The nationwide survey carried out by the NUS showed a similar result, with 60% of those who said they often found it difficult not to get too drunk agreeing that alcohol consumption helped them to socialise and relax.
Worryingly, a quarter of UoB students said that it can sometimes be difficult not to get too drunk. The survey carried out by the NUS recorded 38% of students feeling the same way, showing a trend.
Another worrying pattern shown by the NUS survey was regarding peer pressure from friends, and worries about not fitting in by abstaining from alcohol. Eva Crossan Jory noted a trend amongst respondents that peer pressure was ‘an issue of perception over reality, with most thinking it is more of an issue for others rather than themselves’. 41% of NUS survey respondents feel as if there is no pressure from their own friends to drink, but 70% perceived that students would drink and get drunk in order to fit in.
At UoB, however, a total of 60% agreed that there was an expectation from friends and peers to drink, 19% of these ‘strongly agreeing’. Only 20% disagreed to this, far lower than the figure of 41% recorded by the NUS. Furthermore, 34% of students said they would ‘fear not fitting in’ if they changed their drinking habits, but on the whole, the majority (46%) disagreed.
In recent years there has been a rise in the number of ‘sober socials’ in all universities, and UoB has its own ‘Sober Socials’ society. Half of respondents to the NUS survey said there were enough events at university that don’t involve drinking, but a quarter believed there should be more. At UoB, there was an even split between those who thought there were enough and those who think there should be more. Only 2% of UoB students thought there were ‘too many’ sober social events.
The NUS runs its own programme, Alcohol Impact, encouraging healthier and more sustainable attitudes and practices with alcohol, including guidance with financial and academic issues caused by alcohol.