Please ensure that students drink responsibly

March 7, 2013

Universities are condoning excessive drinking among undergraduates and failing to offer them adequate pastoral care, according to a survey of UK headteachers.

Anthony Seldon, master of independent Wellington College in Berkshire, canvassed 104 headteachers across the public and private sectors, and found that 82 per cent believe there is a “serious issue” with the amount of pastoral care received by undergraduates.

Some 88 per cent believe that universities are condoning excessive undergraduate drinking by “turning a blind eye” to it, while 80 per cent say that not enough is being done to help first-year students settle in.

The survey also reveals that 68 per cent of headteachers do not believe that schools are doing enough to prepare young people for living away from home.

“The time has come for universities to look afresh at their responsibilities towards the undergraduates in their care,” Dr Seldon said.

“We are at a crisis point. We need to have a national campaign to get universities working together to take more seriously the pastoral lives of their young people.”

Dr Seldon is calling on universities to ensure that all undergraduates have access to a personal tutor, and also wants all new students to receive “well-being or happiness” classes as part of their inductions. “Universities also need to take a more responsible role towards cheap alcohol,” he added.

To illustrate his point, Dr Seldon, who set up the well-being charity Action for Happiness in 2010, pointed to end-of-term “drink the bar dry” events, which he describes as a ritual at many UK universities.

If left unchecked, this lifestyle can have potentially dangerous knock-on effects for undergraduates’ mental health, the Wellington head said, pointing to Office for National Statistics data showing that student suicides have risen by about 50 per cent in the past five years.

“This is not intended as a diatribe against universities, which are overall doing a pretty good job with insufficient money at their disposal,” he said.

“[But] by turning a blind eye to excessive drinking, universities are guilty of neglecting their responsibilities. Cheap booze and wild living might well attract the young to their university but it reminds me of the wrong kind of schoolteacher who thinks they will become popular by being lax.”

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