Published by The Huffington Post on 06/10/16
University students love to claim that they are ‘misunderstood’ creatures, but it seems we have actually misjudged their character after all.
While most of us would assume students’ nightmares are populated by overpriced shots, undercooked food and laundry, new ‘research’ suggests they are most terrified of Freshers’ Week – that seven-day period in the university calendar when even Grandma Joan will forgive you for splurging your student loan on cheap drinks and cheaper morals.
Yes, according to the general secretary of the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference (HMC), new students aren’t fans of boozing, and instead ‘want to start studies in the first week’. The HMC also concluded that squares are round, the sky is pink, and Jeremy Corbyn has a tattoo of Thatcher on his chest.
Naturally, when a group of middle-aged headmasters and headmistresses claim to speak for a bunch of 20 year olds, we should be instantly sceptical. No doubt the HMC heralded the rise of Tinder as evidence for an increased interest in bushcraft.
The suggestion that students want to substitute a week of clubbing for a spot of Hegel is laughable. Freshers’ week has just finished at most universities, and judging by the number of photos cropping up on social media, not much time was spent in the library.
The fallacious nature of the claims made by the HMC become palpably clear when we take a quick glance at the spurious methodology that informs them. It obtained its evidence by asking 2,132 teenagers online what they were least looking forward to at university. 16 per cent pointed to Freshers’ Week.
But rather than simply acknowledge that Freshers’ hype can be a bit intimidating, the HMC decided to crudely extrapolate conclusions from the data that conform to their own views of university.
Its General Secretary pontificated that students are uneasy because Freshers’ Week ‘got out of control 10 years ago’, clearly forgetting that, despite this, students somehow survive Freshers’ every year.
Another headmaster warned that for many prospective students, ‘almost every second is mapped out. They go to university and find that is not the case.’
According to his logic, students should start studying straight away to help them regiment their lives. Not only is the assumption that students are oversized children who need help organising their lives profoundly infantilising, but also factually incorrect.
The vast majority of students look forward to turning the music up and letting their hair down. And while even sticky dance floors and funky-coloured lighting often fail to conceal the forced nature of Freshers, students still embrace it.
Of course, it would be a mistake to suggest that today’s students are bastions of the hardcore rave, and the HMC’s observations aren’t completely unwarranted. Survey after survey has revealed that today’s generation of students are the most boring since records began. We’re drinking less alcohol, smoking fewer cigarettes and taking fewer drugs than our predecessors.
And the suggestion that students should be shielded from Freshers’ is merely a natural extension of the view propagated by a number of university unions that students need protecting from anything abnormal.
Given the nation-wide endorsement of trigger warnings and safe spaces on university campuses, is it so shocking that a bunch of teachers believe students aren’t interested in strobe lighting and heavy bass? It’s not surprising the HMC thinks students need shielding.
Worryingly, the anecdotal claims made by the HMC are part of a wider trend of booze-bashing. Student Minds, a mental health charity, called on students to substitute taking scandalous pictures of nights out for tweeting photos of them being sensible at home.
Universities, too, are starting to endorse this view. At the start of this year’s Freshers’ Week at UCL, union officers demonstrated they are in dire need of a few pints by suggesting ‘mocktails are a great way to start the night’. In 2014, Lancaster University even warned students they could face a fine of £200 if caught drunk on campus.
In its ‘Alcohol Impact’ drive, the National Union of Students, called for universities to reduce the advertising of booze on campus and suggested unions ‘run one or more quality non-alcoholic events’ – an oxymoron if there ever was one.
The HMC’s unfounded attack on Freshers’ fun demonstrated that the booze-bashing brigade is slowly gaining momentum. Ultimately, it needs to be shaken, stirred and shoved out of our lives. And, after all the online polls in the world are carried out, there’s only one way to do this: Two pints of lager and a packet of crisps, please.