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NUS Alcohol Impact: What will it mean for you?

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The National Union of Students (NUS) has developed a Home Office-backed alcohol accreditation scheme that it hopes will become a “badge of honour” for universities in the UK.

The scheme, which includes 54 mandatory and optional pointers for universities, is designed to instil a greater awareness of the effects of mass alcohol consumption, and better services for those who might feel that their drinking is becoming an issue.

Alcohol Impact will begin with a one year pilot scheme, which will run at seven universities across the country that have already fulfilled its wide-ranging criteria, which includes issues surrounding alcohol advertising and promotion, staff awareness, support services and university events where alcohol isn’t the main focus.

The pilot scheme will run at Swansea, Manchester Met, Brighton, Royal Holloway, Loughborough, Nottingham and Liverpool John Moores, with the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) acting as a control.

The NUS calls the pilot scheme “potentially transformational” and hopes that it will “create a social norm of responsible alcohol consumption by students.”

But what will it mean for students at the universities taking part, and for others that get on board after the pilot year has been completed?

Will it mean, as has been suggested, the end of pub crawls and cheap drinks in uni bars? Or will it simply lead to greater awareness of the societal and health issues caused by the sheer amount of alcohol we consume as students – and a more open debate about how such issues can be handled?

The universities taking part in Alcohol Impact have been selected against a list of criteria, some points of which are mandatory, others optional. Each criterion is given a number of points to demonstrate its importance – for example, taking up the optional “formal training for relevant staff on the issues relating to responsible alcohol consumption” would gain the university in question four points.

Out of a possible 177 points, universities must score 90 in order to receive accreditation.

Mandatory points, which must be taken up by the universities wishing to gain accreditation, include:  

-          The publication of a statement on responsible alcohol consumption

-          The formation a local steering group that meets at least twice per academic year

-          Steps taken to establish, develop and promote a contemporary student identity based on responsible alcohol consumption

-          Engagement with representatives of sports clubs and societies on responsible alcohol consumption, within the past six months

-          Either that the students' union does not have any licensed premises or, if it does, they have achieved accreditation through Best Bar None or a local equivalent

-          That campus bars refuse to serve intoxicated customers

-          That good relationships are developed with, for example, drug and alcohol schemes or the local police

Optional criteria, which the university can choose whether to implement or not, includes an action plan to tackle local alcohol-related issues, training for staff on responsible alcohol consumption, steps taken to understand which groups of students might be vulnerable to “irresponsible alcohol consumption”,  reduction or restriction of alcohol advertising on campus, making sure soft drinks are cheaper than alcohol in union bars, development of a “cafe culture that runs into the evening”, and action to moderate or prevent alcohol initiation ceremonies.  

One optional criterion, and that which may have caused alarm amongst some students, is that the university “has taken action to tackle or redress student participation in commercial pub crawls and/or social media drinking games.”

This means that universities taking part may choose to restrict the presence of organised nights such as Carnage on their campuses – but this of course does not restrict students from joining bar crawls once off campus.

The regulation of “irresponsible drinks promotions” within union bars is also an option for those universities looking to gain Alcohol Impact accreditation, as is a “formally passed policy commitment to encourage and enable a zero tolerance to sexual harassment and discrimination of its students.”

Mainstream social events that do not include alcohol during both freshers’ week and term time are also on the cards.

NUS Vice-President for Welfare, Colum McGuire, says: “We hope that the work of the project will allow us to create a social norm of responsible consumption by students at the pilot institutions, changing attitudes and behaviours towards alcohol, leading to safer and more productive places to study and live.

“The project is an extremely positive one that has the welfare of students at its core, with a range of benefits from reducing crime and disorder, to improving student health and academic outcomes, and enhancing partnerships within local communities.

“We will also aim to encourage responsible retailing and the provision of a broader range of activities as well as effective support services on campus, and by doing so make universities more welcoming for those who do not drink.”

Meanwhile Professor Julian Crampton, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Brighton, which is one of the seven universities taking part, is positive about the launch of Alcohol Impact:

“Drinking to excess is an extremely serious issue,” he says. “Students work extremely hard to gain their qualifications and will always want time out to relax and to enjoy themselves.

“We and other universities work closely with students to ensure they are fully informed about issues surrounding excessive drinking and we offer them advice and support.

“The majority of students act sensibly but anything that reinforces the message of responsible drinking is something we would encourage.”

For more information about NUS Alcohol Impact, visit the NUS site here.

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