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Wild night in: Rise of the student potluck

BySophie Tanno

Jan 26, 2016

Recent figures suggest that student socialising in the UK is currently undergoing a cultural shift as the Millennial generation reject the extravagant student party lifestyle of the last two decades. According to a report by the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), a representor of venues, almost half of the UK’s nightclubs have closed their doors in just 10 years; in 2005 there were 3,144 clubs altogether but this number is now down to just 1,733. Whilst restrictive licensing laws and the smoking ban have certainly played a role in this remarkable reduction, it would be a mistake to lay the blame solely on the powers of the authorities. The truth is that the appetite for this kind of fun amongst students is decreasing. But why might we be less keen for a night out than our predecessors? Are we simply a ‘tamer’ generation or are we letting our hair down in other ways?

One practical explanation for the recent decline in club culture is the rise in university fees. When you are paying £9,000 a year for your higher education, weekly partying may become less justifiable, and the idea of missing that 9am lecture because of a heavy night is harder to swallow when you realise that it works out at around £50 per class. As Jess Excell, student union president at Loughborough University, points out, “Things are becoming less focused on going out. There’s been a shift in attitudes – students are focused on their studies and investing in their education; perhaps it’s down to the rise in fees.”

Another reason for this change in social behaviour is a more wholesome one, as students turn away from excessive alcohol consumption due to health reasons. Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by more than 40 per cent between 2005 and 2013, while the proportion of 16 to 24 year olds who drink frequently has fallen by more than two thirds. We seem to be taking care of our bodies more than before as a green juice and gym culture is emerging on campuses across the UK. Social media may play a role in this new surge of students keen to get in shape; thanks to Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, your early morning gym selfie or superfood quinoa salad lunch can be instantly shared with the world. Moreover, UK universities these days have a larger intake of international students, who may come from cultures where alcohol is a less significant part of their daily lives, or even forbidden due to religious reasons.

This dip in our partying habits does not necessarily mean that we are any less social however. We are instead finding more cost effective or active ways to spend our free time. Cosy dinner parties in a ‘potluck’ style and conversations over a bottle of wine in the comfort of our own homes are an increasingly favoured way of catching up with friends.

Universities have noticed this shift in student socialising and cater accordingly. According to Paul Griertrix, registrar at the University of Nottingham, “The NUS and universities have all come to the realisation that we need to cater for a much more diverse range of interests. Many of our students don’t fit into the 18-year-old party animal type at all, and we have to have a broader offer.” Universities including Edinburgh, Leeds and Birmingham have reported a trend in increased membership in sports clubs and societies, and now over 20 universities have signed up to the NUS’s alcohol impact programme, which encourages responsible drinking and ensures teetotal students are not left out of social events. Antony Haddley, union affairs officer at the University of Leeds, notes that, “Students are not suddenly turning into recluses who don’t go out; they are still having a good time, without alcohol.”

Ultimately, every generation tries to be different from its preceding one. Although the student club culture is far from dying out, students these days may be looking to behave more responsibly than older generations and in doing so are exploring other ways of socialising.

Image: Hicham Souimi

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