The ending of school years and the beginning of third level education is part of the transition from childhood to adulthood.
Although those starting life at university are legally adults, many do not have the maturity implied by that status. For most students, the beginning of the first term at university will be their first experience of living for a protracted period away from home, away from the constraints of family and neighbours and the discipline that home life necessarily entails.
Armed with their grants, student loans and work earnings, the young people are suddenly independent for the first time in their lives. They must learn to budget and cook for themselves and they have to cope with a new way of study, where there is no compulsion to turn up every day in a lecture theatre or tutorial. Most students adapt quickly to the new demands of living and studying and enjoy their university lives without causing any problem to anyone.
However, as statistics in this newspaper yesterday revealed, there are others who abuse their new found freedom. Since the start of the university
term in September, almost 200 students from Queen’s University and the University of Ulster have been disciplined for anti-social behaviour. A particular hot-spot for student misbehaviour is the Holylands area of south Belfast where hundreds of students are congregated in privately-rented accommodation. The universities will concede that the unruly element among the students — and the problem seems particularly acute among this year’s freshers — cause great annoyance and not inconsiderable damage in the area.
The few remaining residents have to put up with drunken and lewd behaviour, noisy house parties, and abuse. It has got to the stage where residents
have little tolerance even of the well-behaved students. Both universities have been active for several years in attempting to combat the problem of unruly students.
They work closely with Belfast City Council and the PSNI and the introduction of community wardens has led to a 40% reduction in anti-social behaviour. As well as this pro-active initiative, the universities also operate a strict disciplinary code, involving verbal and written warnings, fines and, ultimately, expulsion for repeated offenders.
Students may feel that they are only indulging in the natural high jinks of youth, but there is little doubt that they often go too far, especially if fuelled
by drink. With no parental or neighbourhood supervision and the ease of obtaining alcohol, there will always be the temptation for young people to over-indulge. However, they should realise that what may seem like fun at the time can have very serious long-term consequences.
There have been instances of students having to abandon their chosen university course and career because their behaviour led to them gaining a criminal record. That can also have implications if they want to travel to countries like the United States, the traditional summer bolt-hole for students.
While no-one wants to curb the exuberance of youth, students must realise that certain standards of behaviour are expected of them. When they live off-campus, they should respect the long-term residents of their community.
These people have to put up with a different influx of students every year and deserve to live in peace. University officers and student union representatives must emphasise to students what is acceptable behaviour and the consequences if they overstep the mark.