Warning on alcohol risk at university initiations

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As the new term begins, students are being told to recognise the seriousness of the risks of drinking

Students starting university are being warned about the dangers of initiation events which involve drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.

The Universities UK project wants students to learn from the death of a Newcastle University student in 2016.

Ed Farmer died after consuming a large amount of alcohol at an initiation event for first-year students.

His father Jeremy Farmer said he wanted to “reduce the risks of something similar happening again”.

Mr Farmer said his son had died “needlessly”, making the loss “all the more devastating”.

Danger signs

Hundreds of thousands of young people will be starting at university for the first time this term.

The project wants to raise awareness about the danger of taking part in events for new students, which involve too much drinking or other risky behaviour.

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Ed Farmer, a student at Newcastle University, died in 2016 after excessive consumption of alcohol

As well as warning about excessive amounts of alcohol, students are being told about other danger signs – such as events which involve bullying, coercion, manipulation or “sexual behaviour”.

The Universities UK project is in collaboration with Newcastle University, in response to Ed Farmer’s death.

At the inquest into the student’s death, the coroner warned that young people could be “unaware of the risks of consuming large quantities of alcohol over a short period of time”.

The coroner called for first-year students to be told about the dangers of excessive alcohol and given “guidance on caring for those who are drunk”.

‘No longer just drunk’

A letter from Ed Farmer’s parents, published as part of the campaign, said they wanted other young people to understand the seriousness of the risks.

They said that “possibly just one student might be luckier on a night out than Ed” if they knew about the “dangers of drinking large volumes of spirits in short periods of time”, and if they knew when someone was “no longer just drunk but in a life-limiting state”.

Chris Day, vice chancellor of Newcastle University, said: “We all wish we could rewind three years and change what happened that night.

“But we can’t go back, and so instead we are looking forward and doing everything we can to minimise the chances of anything like this happening again.”

Prof Day says there needs to be a “long-term culture change” towards alcohol, bullying and harassment.

Universities UK says it is difficult to know how many initiation events take place, rather than more general gatherings for freshers, because some initiation events are likely to be against university rules and so might be “covert”.

This can include “team bonding” events for sports clubs, with excessive drinking often a key feature.

Guidance for universities is calling for more clarity for students about what should be prevented or prohibited at such events.

But it says it would be “unhelpful” to try a complete ban or “zero-tolerance approach” as they are still likely to take place.

There are also calls for places which serve alcohol, on or off campus, to promote “responsible behaviours towards drinking”.

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