Are Freshers Choosing Badminton Classes Over Drinking Shots?
The Debrief: It seems that freshers' week is sobering up as the number of teetotal young people rises
It’s that time of year again. Across the country, hundreds of universities are welcoming new students to the next stage of their education with Freshers’ Week. It’s all ‘pound a pint’ nights, sweaty clubs, cheesy music, drinking games, stolen traffic cones and questionable choices, right? Wrong.
No longer are freshers embarking on their university journey in a blur of blue WKDs and fluorescent shots, it seems. On Sunday The Observer ran an article with the headline, ‘Students cut out the boozy nights as Freshers’ Week sobers up.’
Apparently, they're opting out of drink-fuelled activities in favour of theatre trips as well as ‘salsa classes, quiz nights and raveminton’. Raveminton, just in case you haven’t encountered it, is a game of badminton played to the soundtrack of rave music ‘under UV lights’ with ‘glow sticks attached’ to your racket.
Interviewed by the paper, Loughborough University SU Preseident Jess Excell said, ‘Things are becoming less focused on going out.’ She puts this down to ‘a shift in attitudes – students are focused on their studies and investing in their education; perhaps it’s down to the rise in fees. People are also more conscious about spending lots of money, because everything is so much more expensive these days.’
The stats do confirm what Jess says. Young people are going teetotal now more than ever. Recent figures from the Office of National Statistics have found a 40% increase in the number of young adults shunning alcohol between 2005 and 2013.
Furthermore, the proportion of 16-24 year olds who drink has fallen by two thirds. Contrary to what the media would have you believe the number of people in this age group binge-drinking at least once a week is also down by a third, from 29% in 2005 to 18% in 2013.
The decision by student unions to organise more wholesome Freshers’ Week activities, like sober dancing and sporting raves (both of which, by the way, are essentially exercise classes) is a reflection of these changing tastes.
So, what’s going on?
Could it be, as Jess says, because drinking (and existing in general) in Britain is so expensive today? Could it be that the introduction of tuition fees has made students think seriously about their degrees from the start? Could it be that teenagers spend more time at home on social media these days than hanging out together in bus shelters and parks drinking booze they persuaded somebody’s older sister to buy for them?
Bobby Duffy, managing director of the Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute who has done lots of work on changing behaviours between different generations, says, ‘We’ve seen a decline in recent years in a wide range of risk-taking behaviour among young people, from drinking, drug use, crime to teenage pregnancy.
‘We’re not entirely sure why this is happening, but it’s likely to be a combination of effects. First, there’s certainly a cultural or values shift – there’s a strong sense of personal responsibility, younger generations see outcomes as very much down to your individual behaviour – you basically need to make your own way.’
He also notes that things are more difficult for young people today than for previous generations. ‘They’ll have big debts coming out of uni, will face huge housing costs and a really tough jobs environment as global competition bites – so getting on is important,’ he says.
It’s worth noting that cultural diversity could also be a factor. The London School of Economics, whose intake is made up of many international students, is just one of the many universities diversifying their Freshers’ Week activities.
Aysha al-Fekaki, community and welfare officer at the LSE student union, told us that there will be a night bus tour of the city (which is completely sold out), a ping pong dinner and theatre trips. She does point out that, ‘This isn’t the first time there have been alcohol-free events at our Freshers’ Week, but it’s the first time we have run an alternative schedule of events all week alongside the usual club nights.
‘This is to make sure we have a wide range of events that aren’t necessarily so alcohol-focused because that can be alienating.’
Ayesha herself doesn’t drink ‘for cultural reasons.’ She says she has tried drinking but it’s not something that she does. ‘As a community welfare officer, I feel it’s really important that we’re looking after the welfare of our students because there’s been increasing research into the link between alcohol and mental health issues.
‘So this is a targeted initiative, it’s something that we’re actively doing – trying to diversify the events on offer to reduce the stress of an already anxiety-inducing time – Freshers’ Week.’
For so long the binge-drinking yob/ladette has been symbolic of Britain’s young people, but that stereotype now seems to be statistically inaccurate. The idea that young people are living their lives in a haze of booze is becoming more and more unrepresentative of the younger generation.
Ralph Scott, head of citizenship at think-tank Demos says, ‘This is not the end of drinking among students – students will still drink, I’m sure, and some students will still drink far more than is good for their health. But what we’re seeing across the population and amongst particular young people is a decline in overall levels of drinking and a decline in binge drinking.
‘The real question is why this is happening? We did some polling earlier in the year which basically shows that the main causes were awareness of health risks and financial considerations. That seems to be what’s driving it.’
And perhaps they’re onto something. My own Freshers’ Week was both expensive and embarrassing. Perhaps after Generation Offest comes Generation Straight Edge.
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