Universities’ drugs policies ‘deter’ students from seeking help

One in eight students in the UK admits to taking drugs in the past year, with many claiming they want to reduce their drug use

July 2, 2024
Source: Source: iStock and Portokalis

Students are being put off approaching their university for support over their drug use because of “zero tolerance policies and concerns over the consequences of coming forward, according to a new report.

The Universities UK (UUK) study, written by its drugs task force, which was established in 2022 to assess student drug use, warned that approaches to drugs by universities can act as a barrier to students seeking help.

About one in eight students (12 per cent) say they have used drugs in the past 12 months, and a further 18 per cent admit to ever using drugs, the survey of 4,000 students across the UK finds.

The report notes the number of students it found that had taken drugs was “notably lower” than previous results collected by the Office for National Statistics, which found 17.6 per cent of 16–24-year-olds in England and Wales claimed that they had used drugs in the year to March 2023.

However, the report finds a desire by students to seek support over their drug use, with nearly half (44 per cent) of those who have used drugs in the past 12 months saying they wanted to reduce their usage, and one in five (20 per cent) saying they had asked for support from their institution over their own drug use. 

But of those students who had sought support, nearly half (46 per cent) report that their provider’s policy on drugs was a barrier to doing so, with more than a third (37 per cent) reporting that they feared the consequences of coming forward.

Staunch zero-tolerance policies “do not affect the prevalence of drug use, but instead deter students from coming forward for support”, the report says, instead recommending that “universities should reduce these barriers by demonstrating that they have students’ wellbeing as their primary focus”.

Professor Nic Beech, vice-chancellor of the University of Salford and chair of the task force, said that universities’ priority should be to “see students succeed”, adding that “universities need to take a proactive role in showing students the risks of using drugs, but also in providing support to both users and non-users”. 

Higher education institutions instead should take a “harm reduction approach” which focuses on awareness raising, placing the well-being of students at the centre of a response, and working alongside local healthcare providers, the report finds.

It says there was “a lack of confidence across the sector about the right approach to tackling student drug use”. University staff reported they felt they lacked the authority to intervene, lacked the knowledge and skills to respond effectively, and lacked support to offer specialist advice.

Following the report’s publication, the task force said it would work with individual universities and local partners to conduct pilot studies and test and evaluate how best to tackle drug use within universities.


Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles