Unsplash: Thomas Bjornstad

Students want universities to take “stronger measures” against drug use

A new study published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) on 12 June revealed that a majority of students want universities to take a harsher approach for drug dealers and users.

Collaborating with the University of Buckingham for the survey, HEPI found that 62% of the 1,059 students thought that their university should take “a stronger line” on drug dealers and students that repeatedly use drugs.

The statistics reveal that 25% of the students have taken illegal drugs at university. 44% of students answered that “excessive alcohol” use is a “very serious” threat to students, while 33% considered “illegal drugs” to be the same.

88% of students answered that drug use “can cause longer-term problems” for “the mental health of the user”. 68% of students said that it can “(contribute) to criminality”, and 62% of students replied that it can render “health care costs” problematic for society.

Nick Hillman, director of HEPI, said: “This survey provides an important corrective to some of the wilder ideas about today’s students. They are more hard working and less hedonistic than is often supposed. A majority clearly recognise the dangers of taking illegal substances.”

Sir Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, said: “With illegal drugs, we have been fiddling while Rome burns. Illegal drug-taking causes mental health problems, and is a symptom of them.

“Even students themselves think there needs to be a stronger lead on drug-dealing, especially as the survey shows many students feel under peer pressure to participate in illegal drugs.”

Students are more hard working and less hedonistic than is often supposed

– Nick Hillman, director of HEPI

The University of Buckingham will be hosting the Festival of Higher Education this week. It became the first university in the country to introduce a “drug-free” policy by requiring students to sign a contract vowing they would not take drugs at university.

Jess Bradley, National Union of Students (NUS) trans officer, remarked that the survey was “opinion based” and targeted specific groups of students.

She said: “We need to centre on the experiences and motivations of students using drugs to understand how institutions can better help them. We cannot possibly create credible policies without grasping this concept.

“There is now an overwhelming amount of evidence within the sector, corroborated by expert opinion, which shows that punitive approaches and taking a tougher stance on drugs can discourage people from seeking the help they need.

“With our research showing so many students use drugs to deal with poor mental health and stress it is highly unlikely that punishing them heavily and attempting to create a ‘drug free university’ is going to deal with these issues – in fact it is likely to exacerbate them.”

She also emphasised that almost three times more students participated in the NUS survey published in April, which found that a majority of students believed that “tougher punishments” on drug use was not the best approach.

The NUS survey found that 56% of students had taken drugs, and 62% did not have a problem with drug use. The findings contrast with the study by HEPI and the University of Buckingham.

After the NUS survey, the union called for universities to stop reporting students who are caught with drugs to the police, citing mental health issues among students and increasing resistance to seek help due to fear as reasons for drug use.

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