Freshers’ week ‘isolating and expensive’, say head teachers

BBC News, 04.10.16, many new university students want to get on with their courses and avoid the heavy drinking culture of freshers' week, say private school head teachers. HMC General Secretary Dr William Richardson is quoted speaking during the 2016 HMC Annual Conference.

"They want to start studies in the first week," said William Richardson, general secretary of the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference.

Some students wanted the week reformed, said Mr Richardson, quoting anecdotal evidence at the HMC annual conference.

It had got "out of control 10 years ago", but was being reined back in.

Drinking games

Mr Richardson said informal conversations with new undergraduates suggested freshers' week, currently under way at most UK universities, could be an isolating and expensive experience.

The official emphasis was to encourage students to join teams, clubs and societies - but too often it involved drinking games, initiations and pub crawls, he said.

The current generation of students, who faced rising tuition fees and debts often running into tens of thousands of pounds, were more focused on studying than their forebears, said Mr Richardson.

He said: "There is concern about freshers' week being culturally very clunky.

"So, the teetotal, faith-based female student, who wants to enjoy freshers' week, at a venue where you can't say no to drinking - that's definitely an issue.

"We've had a chat with the presidents of the students' unions.

"Their concern is quite interesting - they want all students to feel included in the induction, and sometimes freshers' week is so far off the scale the wrong way that it is a big problem for them.

"They want it reformed, I think.

"Freshers' week did definitely get out of control 10 years ago, and [they] are reining it back in.

"The university authorities have a problem - [they say,] 'We want independent study, and they [the students] are all 18. We can't mollycoddle them.' They need guiding, these kids."

Mr Richardson's comments come as a survey of 2,000 students from independent schools suggest their top concerns are workload (27%) and money (25%).

Coffee shops

Many also worried about going from "the highly structured" school day to the "less well structured" study patterns of university, said Peter Hamilton, headmaster of Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School in Hertfordshire.

"For many people almost every second is mapped out. They go to university and find that is not the case," he said.

"They're paying £9,000 a year for it and the fact they've just come from a highly pressured 18 months where it's been work, work, results, results, and you can kind of see why they're so serious. They want to get on with this."

National Union of Students vice-president for union development Richard Brooks said: "Students are asking more and more for different opportunities to meet other students in a variety of spaces.

"Students' unions are rising to the challenge and providing a range of events that reflect this and finding ways to welcome new and returning students.

"NUS research has previously shown students are becoming more interested in all sorts of activities."

NUS research published in February hinted at changes to student life, with 87% of respondents saying coffee shops were the most used facility, ahead of the union shop (81%), clubs and societies (78%), and bars (74%).