University students and Alcohol: Qualitative research
Summary of findings
- The students had begun a significant mental and physical journey in leaving home and beginning University. Their enthusiasm for University life was heartening and all appeared to have fully embraced the party that was Freshers’ 2008.
- There were huge similarities in the way in which they behaved with regard to alcohol and this, supported by other studies, it is suggested is a result of learned behaviour, from older students, siblings, expectations set in the media and from each other.
- The clubs and bars in Huddersfield clearly view the Freshers as a critical market and an overwhelming amount of hugely professional effort goes into recruiting students to patronise their premises. Fellow students are inveigled into forming part of their advertising teams and consequently promotions are directly targeted at fellow students, even in areas where this is strictly prohibited. This results in a level of overwhelming promotion and sets the scene for behavioural patterns of the students.
- To talk to the students in the first part of Freshers’ and influence behaviour is an enormous task. It is suggested that education needs to begin during pre-student days, when individuals are learning about unrestricted alcohol consumption on holiday and at summer music festivals. In addition, materials that parents can share with pre-18’s would assist in keeping parents in touch with influences that might come to bear on their children.
- Students and other young people are most likely to be influenced by information that they can see the point of. For a case in point, see behaviours relating to drink spiking.
- A campaign based on Units of Alcohol is unlikely to be successful. The concept of units is at once too complicated, too vague and too meaningless to have any practical impact on behaviour, particularly in the Fresher period.
- More meaningful measures, such as calories or messages about sexual unattractiveness or social ‘death’ are more likely to have an impact among Freshers.
- Wasting time and money, failing exams, letting themselves down are all messages that could be communicated at various points during the early weeks of University life.
- These, in addition to stricter controls on absence, raising academic expectations of the individuals, consideration of a more structured programme of events during the Fresher period and rethinking the profile and communication strategies of University societies may well help to combat the accepted behavioural norms.
This research aims to give further insight into the motivations and values of first year students at Huddersfield University with regard to alcohol consumption.
The Joint Alcohol Initiative wish to understand:
- The process of the student journey – from leaving home to the end of the Freshers’ period
- Key influences/expectations
- Behavioural motivators
- What matters to the students and potential exchanges for alcohol
- Decision making around alcohol consumption
- Awareness and effectiveness of Alcohol Awareness campaigns
This information will form the basis of a social marketing initiative directed at the student population.
Alcohol has been identified as a significant factor affecting health of individuals within Kirklees. As a result the Kirklees Alcohol Strategy was developed in November 2007 and this strategy, along with the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment 2007, has formed the driving force for raising the profile of local alcohol related issues.
In March 2008 a scoping project, to evaluate the attitudes and behaviours of a selection of demographic groups towards alcohol, identified students as an ‘at risk’ group.
The report found that students are particularly likely to engage in sustained periods of above recommended limits of alcohol consumption. First year students, Freshers, were felt to be particularly at risk as they were heavily targeted by bars and clubs and least likely to have been exposed to heavy alcohol consumption prior to attending university.
In September/October 2008 further research was undertaken to more precisely understand the motivations and behaviour of first year students with regard to alcohol consumption. The findings of the study are to underpin a social marketing campaign directed at students.
Research to explore the attitudes and behaviours of first year Huddersfield University students in relation to alcohol consumption, which will be used to underpin a social marketing campaign directed at students.
3x focus groups involving 24 first year students took place at the beginning of the Freshers’ period (22 / 23 Sept) and then again when University courses had started (4 / 5 Oct) (i.e. 6x focus groups in all).
The groups were structured as follows:
- Males and Females who reside in the Huddersfield area
- Females new to Huddersfield
- Males new to Huddersfield
Students were asked to define their alcohol consumption patterns pre-university and during the Freshers’ period. These were contrasted with behaviour at the end of Freshers’ period.
Students also completed blogs to enable understanding of the types and appeal of alcohol related activities engaged in. They also collected alcohol related leaflets and flyers distributed during the period, and asked to comment on the appeal during the focus groups.
An environmental audit was conducted by the research agency, who visited locations including Halls and Student Union to gain an understanding of the alcohol-related promotions directed at students.
In addition, a sample of student related websites and social network groups were explored to understand alcohol related messages on the internet.
The focus groups were recorded in both audio and visual format, and video excerpts made available to stakeholders with the permission of the students.
Data collection methodology
Other data collection methodology
Students completing blogs and collecting alcohol related material, environmental audit. Review of relevant websites.
24x first year students at Huddersfield University took part in the focus groups.
Groups took place on 22nd and 23rd September, and 6th and 7th October 2008.