It happens everywhere: in the pub, at student associations, and in living rooms. Alcohol consumption is apparently inherent to student life. That has to change, the central government decided in 2018. “Excessive and heavy alcohol consumption must become a less natural part of student life in the years ahead”, the National Prevention Agreement states. According to the government, there is much to be gained in higher education where few preventive measures have yet been taken.

The National Prevention Agreement and the Trimbos Institute maintain the following meanings:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption: more than 21 glasses of alcohol per week for men and more than 14 glasses for women.
  • Heavy alcohol use: six glasses at least once a week for men and four for women.

Reasons for the Executive Board to commit to the National Prevention Agreement. The goal: between 2018 and 2040, the number of students who drink excessively and heavily drops by 50 per cent.

What steps has the university taken since 2018?

Alcohol policy at the university is not new. The Executive Board has had agreements on alcohol consumption with student associations for years. Also, student psychologists and the Student Welfare Programme also already paid attention to the issue. But since the National Prevention Agreement, the aim is to focus even more attention on alcohol consumption among students.

This is done in two ways. Firstly, over the past year staff who often have contact with students, such as mentors and student psychologists, have brushed up their knowledge on substance use, says a university spokesperson. As a result, they are now better able to recognise risky use. This involved Youz, a Rotterdam-based addiction care institution. Student counsellors have since been in closer contact with addiction services, enabling them to actively refer students with addiction problems, the spokesperson says.

Secondly, alcohol will become a regular theme of the Student Wellbeing programme, according to the spokesperson. As yet, however, the Student Wellbeing Platform only provides an overview of help providers at the university, such as student psychologists and online coaches. Later this year the platform will include a page on alcohol consumption. This will likely include an online self-test. Alcohol consumption will also receive attention during the annual Student Wellbeing Week and activities in the Living Room.

What agreements have been made with student organisations?

The policy on alcohol states that student organisations annually sign an agreement with the Executive Board. Several student organisations confirm this. The agreement stipulates that the organisations are not allowed to serve alcohol to first-year students during the initiation period. Several associations also state that they are only allowed to serve beer and wine at other events.

In addition, student organisations must adhere to a code of conduct requiring the board to ensure that members or participants comply with the Licensing and Catering Act (Drank en Horecawet). Among other things, that law states that you are not allowed to serve alcohol to people under the age of eighteen and that you must refuse entry to intoxicated people. The code of conduct also requires organisations to report any incidents in violation of the code to the university.

Some student organisations are not aware of the agreements with the university. The secretary of an international association says, via email, that there is no agreement with the university on alcohol. Board members of another international association said that they are only aware of the alcohol rules during Eurekaweek.

Some student organisations have separate alcohol policies to the university. The five societies that fall under the Rotterdam Chamber of Societies (RKvV) must abide by the RKvV’s alcohol policy, president Judith Noordhuis explains. “For example, an association’s board members must approach a member involved in misconduct due to alcohol abuse”, Noordhuis says. “Bar staff have to take an online course in which they learn such things as how to serve and who to serve.” In addition, RKvV societies must abide by the university’s code of conduct and Eurekaweek rules.

Alcohol-wine-drangebruik-alcoholbeleid- Femke Legué
Image credit: Femke Legué

What is the alcohol policy for the Eurekaweek?

For this year’s introduction week, the Eurekaweek committee has drawn up a new alcohol and drugs policy. Some of the rules: on some days, no alcohol is allowed before 2 p.m., spirits and drinking games are prohibited, no discounts may be given on alcoholic drinks, and non-alcoholic options must always be available. Partners are also not allowed to use the word ‘beer’ in advertisements. The rules only apply to the programme organised by the Eurekaweek committee. Activities organised by student organisations are not subject to this policy.

What are the rules regarding alcohol on campus?

On campus, alcohol is currently only sold at Café In de Smitse, the Erasmus Pavilion, and the Spar. But spirits are not available there. As a catering establishment, Café In de Smitse and the Pavilion must comply with the Licensing and Catering Act. No other requirements apply for these catering establishments.

Under the licence, no alcohol is allowed to be sold at Vitam restaurants and coffee bars, says manager Michel Flaton. Exceptions are events or drinks in the restaurant, where only beer and wine are served.

Alcohol is allowed to be sold in the Food Plaza, but in 2014 all the entrepreneurs themselves decided to stop selling alcohol, Marc van Hooijdonk of Tosti World says on behalf of the entrepreneurs. “At Tosti World, a tray of beer lasted over two months”, he says. “Besides, it doesn’t fit with the Food Plaza, which is especially busy in the afternoon. And beer simply does not fit in with some concepts, like Starbucks.”

According to the university spokesperson, the Executive Board currently sees no need to restrict the availability and sale of alcohol on campus. The reason: “Alcohol problems seem to occur mostly at associations and at home, rather than it being a problem on campus.”

Janna Cousijn, addiction researcher at EUR, wonders why drinking alcohol on campus is considered normal. “Potential for addiction is not the only side effect of alcohol. Drinking a lot of alcohol can lead to cancer and cardiovascular disease in the long run. It is a toxic substance”, she says. “University is about the positive development of students and staff. So why give them some kind of drug? Weed, cigarettes and gambling machines are not allowed in educational institutions either.”

Some other universities have stricter rules. At University of Utrecht and TU Delft, for example, no alcohol consumption is allowed before 5 p.m. This rule also applies at a faculty of the University of Amsterdam.

How does the university know whether its alcohol policy is effective?

It is impossible to say whether alcohol consumption among students has fallen since 2018. It was only in 2021 that Trimbos, the knowledge centre for substance use (among other things), first conducted a student monitor examining alcohol consumption among students in higher education. The results of the second monitoring will be published at the end of this year, according to a Trimbos spokesperson. Anyway, the figures from two years ago show that students drink a lot of alcohol: almost all students (94 percent) drink alcohol, of whom as many as 11 percent drink excessively and 16 percent heavily.

Universities can participate in Trimbos’ student monitor and receive a report on their own students. This contains information about their own students’ alcohol consumption. EUR does participate, but its own report is for internal use only and therefore not public. The university’s Student Wellbeing Monitor, launched during the pandemic, shows that the number of Rotterdam students drinking excessively increased very slightly between 2020 and 2021: from 3.64 to 4.3 percent.

The definition of ‘Excessive alcohol consumption’ in the Student Welfare Monitor differs to that in the National Prevention Agreement and Trimbos surveys. The university’s monitor is based on the WHO’s Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test (AUDIT). In a survey, ten questions are asked, each with a possible score of 0 to 4. 0 means a person does not drink alcohol. A final score of 8 or higher indicates a high likelihood of excessive alcohol consumption.

The situation regarding alcohol consumption is ‘continuously monitored’, according to the spokesperson. “The monitoring is based mainly on the contact between the university and student organisations, signals that reach us from events, and individual reports or signals from students.”