Results of student alcohol survey released

Image credit: Kimery Davis

A recent survey by the University of Cambridge, involving more than 6,000 undergraduate and graduate students, has presented a number of alcohol-related statistics, such as the fact that while almost 30% of students do not drink, a similar percentage drink more than the recommended weekly limit.

The mix of gender (52% female, 48% male) and level of study (67% undergraduate and 33% postgraduate) of survey respondents reflects the makeup of the Cambridge student body and has allowed the university to compare results with those obtained by the National Union of Students (NUS) in 2016 from students at 21 higher education institutions in the UK.  

The Cambridge survey showed that 25% of Cambridge students drink to get drunk regularly, with students generally citing various reasons for drinking. This included having fun (73%), to relax after a hard day (42%), peer pressure (20%), social routine (36%), and to overcome anxiety (18%).

21% of students reported sexual harassment (drinkers and non-drinkers), with 74% of those believing that alcohol had, in some way, been a factor. A high proportion of students overall felt there was a need for more alcohol-free spaces (40%).

There were also differences to be found between the NUS survey and the University survey. Whilst pre-drinking is suggested to be relatively popular in Cambridge (46%), it is less common in Cambridge than the national average (67%). Far fewer students in Cambridge (38%) also think getting drunk is part of University culture (compared to 85% in the NUS survey) and just over a quarter of Cambridge students (26%) thought they had compromised their personal safety when drinking, compared to 52% in the NUS survey.

Graham Virgo, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, said, “We undertook this survey, not only because alcohol misuse is a serious public health issue which we have a moral responsibility to engage with, but also because we take the welfare of our students extremely seriously. We pride ourselves on our collegiate structure at Cambridge and the strengths this brings in ensuring exceptional levels of pastoral care for our students. Promoting safer drinking is one way we can encourage and support student wellbeing.”

“However, the issues associated with alcohol consumption that emerge from the Cambridge survey, by and large, mirror those highlighted in the NUS survey and also tally with what we know to be wider societal trends and challenges. It is reassuring to know that we are not alone in facing these challenges but we cannot use the fact that alcohol misuse is multifactorial and societally endemic as an excuse for inaction and the outcomes from the survey helpfully highlight areas we can focus our energy to enact small but significant cultural change within the student body”, he added.

This data, especially that which focuses on the negative impacts of alcohol misuse, will aid the University not only in its safer drinking initiatives, but will also contribute to ongoing ventures that aim to understand and prevent incidences of sexual harassment and assault.

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