Adieu, la vie en rosé? State crackdown on party lifestyle

Tough line taken after series of assaults and deaths linked to student drinking. Clea Caulcutt reports

March 10, 2011

Student organisations in France may soon have to notify local authorities before they throw parties under proposals to clamp down on the excesses of undergraduate life.

The plans to toughen up on boozing also include random checks on student events to ensure that they observe a ban on open bars and sponsorship from alcohol suppliers.

"It is clear that we must crack down on these drunken parties," said Valérie Pécresse, France's higher education and research minister, as she unveiled the measures.

"These parties have become no-go areas, and the high levels of alcohol available can lead to abusive or dangerous situations."

Last September, a series of suicides, accidents and sexual assaults during freshers' weekends shook the French academy. In one incident in the northern city of Caen, a student drowned after a party, while in Limoges, an intoxicated student fell from a window to her death.

Martine Daoust, professor of pharmacology at the University of Picardie Jules Verne and head of the Poitiers education authority, conducted a recent review of the issue.

She said that increasing numbers of French students are taking up binge drinking.

"Many students now drink with the intention of getting intoxicated very quickly, and it's a trend that has been on the increase over the past 10 years," she said.

"Everyone prefers to turn a blind eye to what is happening, but university deans are gradually waking up to the problem."

Recent incidents have also raised fears of the re-emergence of bizutage - abusive initiation rites traditionally carried out against freshers, which had been on the decline in France's elite grandes écoles since the practice was banned in 1998.

"Alcohol increases the likelihood of bizutage during student parties, as it can tip the balance of power between younger and older students," said Jean-Claude Delarue, a retired lecturer in US civilisation at the University of Paris Diderot.

"Girls are drawn into initiation rites that may involve some sort of sexual abuse, and recently some students have died."

University staff said it was difficult to keep an eye on annual freshers' weekends, which are managed by student organisations and often take place outside university grounds.

Reaction to Ms Pécresse's proposals has been mixed.

Jérôme Caby, dean of Nancy's ICN Business School, said the minister was using an effective carrot-and-stick approach.

"Random compliance checks are a good idea, because we don't want to give students the impression we are launching an inquisition, which would have the perverse effect of encouraging them to organise parties behind our backs," he said.

But Sophie Monvoisin-Josselin, a psychologist who works on preventing alcohol abuse in the grandes écoles, said Ms Pecresse's proposals were too repressive.

"Students are young adults and big teenagers and they're at an age when they want to break the rules," she said.

Random compliance checks and giving local authorities details of student events would only encourage young people to misbehave, she argued.

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