What do you think of when you hear the term fresher?
Someone who drinks in excess? Someone who misses early morning lectures? Someone who is irresponsible with money? Someone not capable of performing the most basic of tasks?
We know the stereotype, we’ve heard them all.
It was only a few years ago I fell into the idea, the generic summary of any young person beginning their time at university.
Of course though, it’s never been as clear-cut as that.
Now more than ever, a generation of young people are breaking the mould of what we view as a typical fresher and students in general.
In fact, it turns out that students can actually be genuinely decent citizens, whether they choose to spend their weekends out drinking or not.
According to the Student Problem insight piece we conducted, the kind of stigmas that we have long attached to young people have shifted more drastically than even we realised.
Not only are students drinking less, drug use amongst youths is dropping and young people are less likely to smoke.
Of course, these lifestyle changes will have a lot to do with our increasing knowledge of the dangers involved with these habits.
But to put the shift down to simply that would be naive, there are other factors at play here.
Not least the astronomic rise of tuition fees. Students are paying three times as much as they were only six years ago. University is seen as an investment in the future now more than it ever has been. For that reason, students are taking the whole experience far more seriously.
Other social factors such as the rise of unemployment is a genuine worry. University to many is still seen as a leverage in the working world and despite not being a necessity for a number of careers, can still be a valuable experience and stepping stone in securing stable employment.
In the Quality of Life Observer 62% of respondents said they choose to attend university to increase their potential earnings, nearly twice as much as the 36% who cited the same reasoning ten years ago.
University is no longer seen as three years of simply partying and attending lectures now and again. It’s a genuine investment in a person’s future.
Students have changed, despite outside preconceptions. From new attitudes to higher education, to lifestyle changes like remaining sober, things are very different.
Sobriety is an increasing trend, we spoke to Ronan, a student at Lancaster University who had chosen this approach to his studies.
As someone who admittedly did drink too much during my time at university, it’s fascinating to hear someone from the opposite end of the spectrum explain why they choose not to drink.
“I have also known people, and students especially, who have become reliant on alcohol both to catalyse social situations but also to deal with stress from university. I did not want this to be a situation I fell into where I would be reliant on it so I simply removed myself from that possibility.”
Ronan went on to say he by no means holds any judgement over people who do drink, rather the issue has traditionally lay with a lack of alternatives for those who do not.
“I personally don’t have a problem with the drinking culture either, I love going down to the pub with my friends or having a chill night in with a few drinks.”
It is when those events start to exclude people who do not drink that I think they can exclude those who do not drink and only then become a problem, in my opinion.”
As time has passed, universities have adopted this sentiment, taking further steps to ensure sober students are not isolated.
Manchester University is one that not only offers incoming student’s an alternative to the traditional fresher bar crawls and events centred around alcohol, but offers accommodation choices that are geared towards the less-documented lifestyle of students.
Accommodation Office Manager, Paul Burns explained to us what their ‘lifestyle moderated areas‘ entail:
“At The University of Manchester this accommodation is occupied by students living in this area who have requested, and are expected, to adopt a moderated lifestyle in respect of alcohol, parties and noise etc.”
“We do not envisage being able to guarantee a permanently quiet or alcohol free environment but by grouping like-minded people together it is hoped we can at least provide a genuine alternative environment.”
Paul also explained a few of the things organised by both the student union and the halls of residence at the university that offer students social events that are less fixed towards alcohol.
“The Students’ Union offers a wide range of activities as do Halls of Residence student committees, so movie nights, pizza nights, international food festivals, board and computer game events, walking and running tours of Manchester, trips to local attractions and lots of other events that are not alcohol focused give a lot of options for people to choose from.”
Perhaps we’ll never fully escape the stereotype that surrounds those beginning their time at university. After all it’s always going to play such a huge part in any students’ life, but the statistics speak for themselves.
Students are more health and environment conscious than ever, they’re drinking less and making healthier lifestyle choices, all whilst facing unfavourable circumstances in terms of job and financial prospects.