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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 February 2006, 11:51 GMT
Students swap pints for pilates
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News Magazine

Students are ditching the stereotypes of being beer-drinking, kebab-eating health disaster zones - and are switching to more puritanical, clean-living lifestyles, according to a survey.

About one in four students is now teetotal, says National Union of Student Services - and among the rest of the student population there is a growing appetite for exercise facilities and healthy eating.

It contrasts sharply with the widespread image of students as beer-swilling layabouts given to late-morning lie-ins after long nights spent in smoky backstreet pubs.

As a sign of the times, NUS Services, which provides commercial support for student unions, is planning a new juice bar concept for student unions around the country.

And next month, the welfare section of the NUS will invite student unions to pledge to hold more events in alcohol-free venues - to encourage a wider range of students to take part in activities.

Boarded-up pubs

This week is National Pubs Week, and the Campaign for Real Ale says 26 pubs close every month - but there are few signs that students will be filling the empty bar stools in future.

Energybase is the private health club at the London students' union

If anything, students appear to leading the charge away from the bar - with the major annual survey of student lifestyle showing a sharp decline in going to the pub.

The Unite survey, carried out by Mori, shows a 13 percentage point fall in students going to the pub as a leisure activity, compared to five years ago. The pub is now a minority activity, only 1% ahead of sport and exercise as a way of spending spare time.

Nick Emms of NUS Services says there is a clear trend away from pub-going, and this has "become more pronounced in the past four or five years".

"Students expect a much wider range of social activities - and are more health conscious. They're more likely to use exercise facilities than the general population," he says.

As for day-time drinking - a time-honoured pursuit among many students of old - it's virtually disappeared, he says.

Yoga sculpt

With young people more likely to hit the exercise bikes than the lager, student unions have been shedding their old-fashioned beer-drenched barn image.

Student bars
Students are losing the taste for drinking in pubs

The University of London Union, one of the biggest in the country, has turned one of its two traditional bars into a cafe-style area, with healthier food - and next month it will be made non-smoking.

The union, serving about 5,000 students a day, has its own private health club, with 60 exercise stations and a swimming pool.

If you thought student "entertainment" meant six pints and an Elvis impersonator - the weekly ULU schedule has 50 exercise classes including "yoga sculpt", pilates, aerobiking and boxercise.

The student population is more diverse and young people are used to a wider range of entertainments than drinking pints in a pub, says a ULU spokesperson. As another taste of things to come, he says the introduction of non-alcoholic cocktails was well received last month.

The decline of "wet sales" - drink being sold across the bar - is a pattern visible throughout the country, says the president of Durham Student Union, Nick Pickles.

Real ale stopped

This is partly financial, but it's also a change in youth culture.

Exercise machines
ULU's Energybase: The crush at the student union bar, 2006 style

At Durham, the student union bar has stopped selling real ale, says Mr Pickles, because there was no demand - and traditional pubs seem to have only a limited appeal for young drinkers.

This might mean that students are still drinking alcohol - but they're buying wine from supermarkets or going to bars rather than spending time in pubs, he says

When there have been so many headlines about binge drinking among the young, the changes in student boozing habits show another side of a more complicated story.

It raises the prospect of more American-style, healthy-living youngsters on campus. It's also not good news for the pub industry, which already has seen so many inner-city pubs boarded up.

And it's no longer the case that student trends can be dismissed as only reflecting a small, unrepresentative group.

Too busy to drink

Almost half of young people will now go to university - and in some more affluent parts of the country, more than two-thirds stay in education after school.

Young Ones
How would the Young Ones have enjoyed yoga sculpt classes?

Veronica King, vice-president for welfare at the National Union of Students, says there are more practical underlying factors behind the decline in any student drinking culture.

And that is they don't have enough time or money. Debt reduces students' spending power - and when so many now have term-time jobs, they don't have the long hours to sit in pubs.

When so much time is taken in earning money, it adds to the pressure on academic work, she says, with leisure activities the most likely to suffer.

"You're more likely to find a student working behind a bar," she says, "than drinking in front of one these days."

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

Having been to university twice - once in 2000 and again in 2005 - I have seen the difference in student attitudes in such a short time. Gone are the days of binge drinking, stealing traffic cones and dodgy kebabs. Students today do not deserve the name. They should be rebranded a PC "healthy-living educational young person".
Dewi, Manchester

I am a student studying at Aberystwyth University, and I certainly notice this trend to be true. The financial factor is at play in my situation. Students do still drink, but they can't afford to be as lavish as those previous generations.
Joshua Davies, Aberystwyth

I completely agree. Although I did drink at university, it was rarely in excess. During my final two years at university my recreational time was spent at the gym/pool, climbing or canoeing. It seemed liked such a waste of what little money I had to sit there and drink it.
Beth, Lichfield

As a student myself (civil engineering), I have seen a definite change over the last few years of my student life. We are becoming a much more health oriented community. Besides who wants to sit in a lecture theatre listening to complex maths with a hangover?
Chris Kennedy, University of Surrey, Guildford

Explains why all the recent gradutes I have hired seem to be children in adult bodies, completly free of any traces of personality, and have no idea what they are meant to be doing. A generation of puritans, I despair.

I remember the days of ULU when you could get a massive plate of "cheesey chips", neck 10 pints of 1.60 lager and dance/fight the night away at Beanos, the Saturday-night club. Happy days......
Tom, London, UK

As a recent graduate of the University of Birmingham I can confirm that more and more students are approaching healthy lifestyles with great zest and zeal. I am however, a testament to the opposing theory and very much living proof that juice and yoghurt cannot fuel academic studies as well as beer and takeaway food. Long live curry houses.
Adam, Wolverhampton, England

We get very, very drunk at Oxford. So much so that there is an entire lexicon devoted to drunkenness and kebabing. They say it's all about having a creative lash.
Henry, Oxford

I couldn't agree more! As a former, yet recent, students' union welfare officer I found that more and more students were interested in the university sports facilities than the price of a pint!
Rob, Huddersfield

What is wrong with the youth of today! This sort of social behaviour would never have happened in my day... personally I blame the parents! Action must be taken - I think I might write to my MP.
James Culling, London

Perhaps gyms are fuller due to young people's requirement to look fantastic when they are out getting drunk.
James, Nottingham

I was a student in the late 80s and early 90s. I was, and still am, teetotal and a non-smoker. I did, and still do, work out several times a week. I was a genuine freak at college as a consequence. "Go on John, just try a pint! Have a ciggie! Try a joint!" was the constant refrain.
John Franklin, Congleton

I arrived at university two-and-a-half years ago expecting boozy afternoons, all-night parties and passed-out strangers in the corridor. What I found, however, was a health-conscious majority of clean-living young people with education their first priority. I'm not suggesting this is in any way a bad thing, but I found more hard-drinkers in my Venture Scout Unit before I came to university!
Christopher Last, Norwich

Excellent article - I started uni this year and suspected right from the start that the stereotype of perma-drunk students partying all day and night is far less widespread than it used to be. Another factor I'd like to add to reasons why students spend less time drinking and more time working: we're always being told that we lack "work skills" so we have to gain experience in the world of work. Lots of degree programmes include compulsory work experience, especially for certain professions (medicine, engineering, etc.)
Helen, Exeter

This report is rubbish. You only need to look at the number of new pubs near universities - and are any of them ever empty? Ask any random student when he/she last went to a juicebar, and 9/10 will probably answer "what's a juicebar?" As for gym membership, that is just a reflection that students are now spending far more money (even if it is borrowed) - as evidenced by their mobile phones, laptops, ipods, cars, designer clothes, en-suite accomodation. Where are the scruffy students now?
John Smith, Manchester, UK

This is entirely true! (apart from the healthy stuff). Debt meant I couldn't spend all the afternoons I wanted to in the pub. Supermarkets offer a cheap alternative often with special deals, and you can sit out in your own yard or in front of the telly. With a job on weekends I had less time to socialise, and less time to do work.
Andrew, Liverpool

Drinking is fun and good!
Tom Parker, Cambridge

Having been at university for nearly seven years (doing a BA and then a PhD), and teaching there too, I can definitely say there has been a change. It is true that students do focus more on sports and other activities, perhaps with a view to improving their CVs. Mary, Canterbury

Am I to understand that the staggering hordes of rowdy yobs that pass my flat at three in the morning on their way home from the Bristol University Union building aren't actually drunk at all, but just voicing their happiness at being fit and drink free?
Andrew, Bristol

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