Booze and Students – just what should we be doing?

Development of a University Alcohol Action Plan – is it worth the bother?                                  Dr Michael Byrne, Head of Health Development Services at the University College of Cork 

A Delegates View – 

The suggestion coming out of this session is that yes, it is worth the bother, absolutely, but only if you are going to do it properly – get buy in, find the right people, communicate everything and above all believe in what and why you are doing it.

A strong case was presented for Universities to think hard and to think creatively about how we respond to the issue of alcohol-related harm in our respective student communities.   Harm in this context is painted with a broad brush, with colleagues across the sector talking about the consequences of excessive drinking in our institutions – increased occurrences of anti-social behaviour, more Sexual Transmitted Infections, detrimental impact on academic study, attendance and retention, increased instances of violent behavior and arrest and in the most extreme, serious injury, illness and even death.

 The approach at Cork has been to focus in on how they can:

  1. Influence and support individual students, to ensure that they are aware of the impact and consequences of excessive drinking, and that they can access appropriate services such as Brief Intervention Therapy if and when things do go wrong.
  1. Firmly establish robust institutional processes with the view of reversing some of the issues listed above – be that alcohol free accommodation , student patrols, asking students to complete an alcohol self-assessment form etc.   it was noted not to underestimate the amount of work this can involve from addressing all students during Induction to routinely checking that services and colleagues (all of whom have other roles) are fulfilling their responsibilities to the project aims.
  1. Bring about real change across the sector by working in partnership with other HEIs and influencing those areas and industries that are linked to alcohol. Just a very small thing!!!

The experience at Cork demonstrates that projects such as these cannot be light-touch and that they should not be underestimated – they require expert knowledge, and a relentless pursuit to deliver what we believe is right. The proof is of course in the pudding – and a measure of their success has been recognition beyond HE as they were awarded for their work at the Irish Healthcare awards.

Work in the UK,  (Alcohol Impact) led by NUS with input from eight HEIs builds upon the work presented here by UCC – early indications suggest that that work could have a real and significant influence on how we respond to the issue of Alcohol in our Institutions but more broadly how the Sector can inform and influence more widely, behaviours and practice associated with alcohol.

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