The University of Buckingham has vowed to become the first university in the UK to become “drug-free” by forcing students to sign contracts forbidding the taking of drugs on university grounds. As the number of students being disciplined for drug use has risen by 42% over the last two years, according to the Sunday Times, supporters would welcome this policy as a tough solution to an ongoing problem. However, I believe that signing a contract to promise not to use drugs is trivial as it ignores drug issues and does not address the root of the problem.
The first problem with forcing students to sign contracts is that the institution homogenises all students. Drug use amongst students tends to vary amongst different universities in the UK. Also, not all students will take drugs, and the types of drugs that students use differ greatly, so it is wrong to assume stereotypes regarding drugs, such as, all students try marijuana and that access is easy at every university. Therefore, assuming that all students are the same is damaging to those who habitually use drugs because they have developed an addiction, and those who are trying them out.
Students don’t always follow rules, and university is seen as a time for exploration, not a time for prohibition
Secondly, forcing students to sign a contract is not a sufficient means of regulation, as many accommodations and universities have rules on drugs already. For example, at the University of Warwick, students who live in halls must sign a contract that includes a clause on drug use already. Therefore, such contracts, such as the one from the University of Buckingham, only seek to illiterate that they are attempting to solve their drug problem but in reality, their attempts are futile.
Contracts can be broken and are often broken. Students don’t always follow rules, and university is seen as a time for exploration, not a time for prohibition. Having a contract such as this is simply a waste of time for staff members, who are already struggling with needless bureaucracy and don’t need more to be added to their workload.
The complex problem of mental health cannot be solved by a contract
Furthermore, the increase in drug use has been linked to poor mental health amongst students, which is the reason given by the vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham for the introduction of the contract. He attributes the contract to ‘the rise of suicide and mental health problems amongst students, and drugs playing a significant role’, suggesting that forcing students to stop taking drugs may lead to better mental health in students.
Yet the complex problem of mental health cannot be solved by a contract alone, regardless of what big-wigs at universities think. The contract proposed by the University of Buckingham merely glosses over the issue of worsening mental health in students. Rather than spending money on improving conditions for students by improving mental health services, helping students with the rising cost of university and tackling the stressful exam culture, the vice-chancellor believes that all can be solved with a sheet of paper. This contract, to students, is a representation of management sticking two fingers up at students and laughing at us, rather than addressing the root of the drug problem.
This contract, to students, is a representation of management sticking two fingers up at them
The contract proposed by the University of Buckingham, which aims to eradicate drug use on university grounds, is an ineffective, and frankly cheap, attempt to show students that they care about their wellbeing. In reality, they are ignoring the cause of drug use; that wellbeing services are underfunded, students worry about the rising cost of university and that universities are becoming profit-making machines that churn out as many 2:1 achieving students as they can, while ignoring exam stress. Rather than forcing students to sign contracts, they should deal with the rising rates of suicide and worsening mental health that forces many students to take drugs in the first place.