Poll reveals high levels of dissatisfaction with alchoholic focus of Freshers’ Week

A report has found that almost 40% of incoming students are unhappy with the “strong focus” on alcohol during Freshers’ week

Freshers week students

A report into the induction process at York found that almost 40% of incoming students are unhappy with the “strong focus” on alcohol that Freshers’ Week events had.

The document, which was prepared by the University, suggests that the high number of alcohol-related events during the induction period alienates large numbers of incoming students. The report has been criticised by YUSU officers for being misleading.

The report asked respondents to agree or disagree with a number of statements, and reveals that 47.9% of those surveyed wanted more events without an alcohol focus, and that only 11.6% wanted more alcohol focused events. Further, it states that while 35.5% of students did not want more alcohol free events, 35.8% would have liked to see more.

YUSU President Anne-Marie Canning, criticised the report’s format. “I am really, really concerned about the way that some of the questions have been presented. There are leading questions, and those that are neutral aren’t represented in the breakdown,” she said.

Canning is unhappy with what she claims is the Uni­versity’s view of YUSU with respect to Freshers’ Week. “I think the Uni has a strange perception of what we do. I don’t think they have recognised how we have moved on. I think that we have done so much, and the University is intent on painting us as booze hounds,” she continued.

Just over half of respondents found YUSU induction events to be useful, while 11% disagreed with the statement. The remainder were neutral.

The report, which was distributed to JCRC chairs, aimed to “gain an over­view of the entire student induc­tion process, including pre-­sessional events, Freshers’ events, and Postgraduate induction.” It is based on the findings of a survey of 80 staff members, two surveys sent to all first-year undergraduate and postgraduate students and a set of interviews with key staff involved with event organisation.

The intial student survey, which had a one week deadline, was completed by 1,244 respondents. Designed to canvas students’ opinion on the organisation and format of the induction process, two-thirds of respondents, or 829 students, were undergraduates.

Only 744 students responded to the second survey sent a week later, which was designed to “gauge student opinion on alcohol and social inclusion during induction events.”

The surveys contained a section which allowed respondents to offer suggestions or feedback. One student stated: “There is a general assumption that everyone wants to get wasted and that simply isn’t the case. Furthermore, the fact that most people do is not evidence to the contrary; simply a demonstration that peer pressure doesn’t end when you leave the playground.”

“There is no need to make events ‘alcohol free’, but only to shift the focus away from alcohol. The events themselves were excellent, but were overshadowed by excessive drinking,” stated another.

YUSU Societies and Communications Officer Sam Bayley said: “While it’s very important surveys like this are carried out… I can’t help feeling the turnout from this survey has skewed the figures somewhat.”

“What concerns me is that the type of people that fill in this kind of survey are people that didn’t have a nice time during Freshers’ Week,” agreed Canning. “You don’t tend to get positive feedback. Not because the week was bad, but because those who didn’t enjoy it are the kind of people that want to respond,” she added.

Another strong criticism of the current induction format was that mature students are not catered for sufficiently.

One student commented: “I felt very strongly that mature students were not considered when Freshers’ Week events were organised,” while another said: “The lack of consideration for how mature students may feel isolated in Freshers’ Week is shocking.”

Canning claims to be aware of the need to adjust the programme to include mature students and postgraduates. “We want to rename Freshers’ Week ‘Welcome Week,’” Canning said. “‘Fresher’ isn’t applicable to a large portion of our students”.

Two suggestions from the staff survey was the need for a Freshers’ Co-ordinator and a Freshers’ Passport. The co-ordinator would oversee events run by colleges, societies, departments and YUSU to ensure a more structured and balanced induction period. The passport was seen as a way to impress on Freshers’ the key tasks that need to be completed over the period.

Canning praised the attempt to develop new ideas. “It’s great that we have a coordinated approach and that we are doing a bit of research into Freshers week, and for that it’s brilliant. Also, it has highlighted the need for a co-ordinator across campus so that we know what is going on,” she said.


  1. Henry,

    While you acknowledge that this report was distributed to JCR Chairs, you made no attempt to contact me, or – to my knowledge – any of my colleagues for comment. The report makes no specific reference to YUSU events, but does discuss College activities. One of the big errors, I find, is that the report failed to give voice to JCRCs, which undertake the planning of the majority of events (although many are at least partly YUSU co-ordinated). This article repeats that error. Why?


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  2. Personally, I feel that the Union and JCRCs did make a lot more effort this year to shift the focus of at least some of their events away from alcohol. It’s not easy to come up with options for events that don’t tend towards drinking – this isn’t necessarily the fault of the people organising the events, it’s just a reflection of the fact that the majority of social space in our community (particularly social space that’s open after 9pm) is primarily intended to sell alcohol. The social resources that don’t involve drinking, stuff like bowling etc., is often expensive and puts a serious limit on numbers. Outside events seem to provide more scope, but the unpredictability of the weather becomes prohibitive, particularly since York’s Autumn term starts so late. I think the organisers do their best, but until the SU have their own space (roll on student centre) they have to work with what’s available to them.

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  3. I’m not sure it’s necessarily the fault of the events organisers that so much of Fresher’s week is alcohol-dominated. I think it’s more the actions and wishes of the freshers themselves, the vast majority of whom see a week of boozing as the preferred way of celebrating what for many is their first taste of independence from home etc. And I think part of the reason for this is a society-wide expectation or culture, that that is ‘what is done’, it’s ‘how it is’. I think whatever events are put on there will always be a large crowd bent on getting drunk every night anyway. Though I personally disagree with that attitude to drink, it’s people’s own free choice at the end of the day.

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  4. Freshers week provision to some extent will always depend on who is in charge. Some blocks had good STYCs, some blocks didn’t have any. Some colleges had space suitable for clubbing and boozing, some didn’t. Some people’s housemates may not have socialised, some may have kicked off their uni life with plenty of trebles, vomit and nausea.

    For me, freshers weeks in the past seem to have been conducted the wrong way round – the ball on the monday makes no sense as you only know the 12 or so people you met on the previous sunday.

    I don’t think booze is the issue, students do drink. A million ‘awareness campaigns’, or even hiked prices isn’t going to change that.

    More daytime events would be useful as a non-alcoholic means of socialising. As a way of getting to know people, bingeing isn’t probably the best idea. But the choice should remain. Viking raids sell out 3 times a year for a reason, and i don’t think we need to rethink the alcoholic events, rather supplement them with plenty of events for people to actually get to know each other properly. Especially those who are slightly older and don’t find a night in ziggys that appealing!

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