Drinking has always been a large part of student culture and never is that more true when students study abroad. However, the unlikely pairing of the Erasmus Student Network and alcohol distillery Pernod Ricard is dedicated to changing this image and educating students across Europe about the harmful effects of excessive drinking.
The Erasmus Student Network and Pernod Ricard renewed their Responsible Party initiative for the eighth year running during an event in Brussels at the end of January. Since the programme began in 2010, it has held more than 580 “responsible parties” and reached 367,000 students. This is the first EU-wide alcohol prevention programme to promote responsible drinking.
A key factor of the programme is that it doesn’t expect students to stop drinking entirely. Instead the aim is to ensure that students are aware of the health and social risks of excessive drinking and to implement strategies to manage levels of alcohol consumption. One of these is as simple as ensuring that there is free water at parties. Another is to invite students to participate in a light-up reaction wall to demonstrate how reactions are slowed down after drinking alcohol.
This is achieved through a network of 15,000 student volunteers in the partner countries, and Erasmus Student Network president João Pinto attributes the programme’s success to this peer-to-peer aspect. “Talking to students about reducing alcohol consumption is a Herculean task so a key part of the programme is to train up student volunteers to spread the message. Resistance is natural so we aim to test our messages as much possible before,” he said.
To mark the renewal of the partnership, a report looking at the drinking habits of European students and the impact of the Responsible Party campaign was released. A survey of 30,400 students was conducted between August 2016 and July 2017 in two phases: one before the exchange programme and another six months later, for both Erasmus and local students.
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According to the results, students who had begun or had planned to do an international exchange drank, on average, larger amounts of alcohol compared with local students. Binge drinking and harmful consumption behaviours were also recorded, and it was found that there was a decrease in binge drinking scores between the start and the end of the academic year, mainly for those students who attended Responsible Party events.
The second part of the survey focused on the impact of the Responsible Party campaign on students at these parties. Some 46 per cent of the students said that the prevention programme proved quite helpful, and 42.8 per cent partly agreed. The survey found that “a slight decrease in alcohol consumption” during Responsible Party events was reported by students, suggesting an “encouraging impact” of the campaign’s prevention messages. In addition, behaviours such as drinking more water were found to be useful.
Overall, the researchers concluded that the campaign does not change students’ behaviour in the long term, but during Responsible Party events students were more likely to drink moderate amounts of alcohol and more water, which is seen as a first step in changing behaviours altogether.
As for the future of the programme, Pinto said that the network was planning to do four things. The first is advocacy for a better Erasmus programme and to ensure that health and education departments continue to work together. The second is to try to add more countries to the the 32 nations that are already signed up. Russia was the latest country to sign up to the Responsible Party initiative.
The third is to respond to the finding that harmful drinking was more prevalent in Eastern European countries and to develop a strategy that targets these countries specifically, such as delivering messages in native languages. The fourth is to ensure that more funding would be made available for the Erasmus programme.
Moving forward, Tim Bastiaens, treasurer of the Erasmus Student Network, said that they hoped to create more partnerships and initiatives to promote health and well-being among exchange students. “We would like to have a general evaluation of health and well-being of students abroad, so looking at levels of physical activity and mental health too. Alcohol consumption is a big part of student health but we want a broader overview of the health of students,” he said. “We already have small examples of where we are trying to impact this, such as providing students with cookbooks of local recipes to encourage healthy eating.”
Concluding the event, Portuguese education minister Tiago Brandão Rodrigues stated that it was important that students are not discouraged from partying and having a good time. Addressing the 60,000 students that were watching the event on Facebook Live, he said: “Never forget that you are young and never forget to party, but don’t forget to be responsible. Too much alcohol can eliminate the fantastic act of partying. We need to teach students to never stop partying but to make sure that they stay responsible.”
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