Universities need to smarten up their drug act – say students

Two student surveys on drug use show conflicting results yet the majority of students want their universities to be tougher on students who repeatedly use illegal drugs and the dealers themselves.

A study from the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) and the University of Buckingham found 71% of students had not taken illegal drugs, yet almost 40% thought their university had a "problem" with drug use. One-quarter of students had taken illegal drugs in the past year and nearly half of these had felt peer pressure to do so. Eight-out-of-ten (81%) of those who taken illegal drugs while in higher education say they have done so for recreational purposes and only 6% say it is to cope ‘with difficulties with exams’.

Revealing a different set of results, a National Union of Students’ recent survey, suggested that two in five students were drug users with cannabis, ecstasy, nitrous oxide and cocaine the most widely used. However, NUS officer, Jess Bradley says: "Punitive approaches and taking a tougher stance on drugs can discourage people from seeking the help they need.”

The Hepi reports shows a large majority of students (62%) want their university to be tougher on drug dealers, against just 19% who think their institution is already taking the issue ‘seriously enough’ and a further 19% who think it is not the responsibility of institutions.

A freedom of information request has also showed that most Russell Group universities have not developed policies for “smart drug” use which is said to boost academic performance. These nootropics are widely available online. A survey of 11,000 students by The Tab newspaper showed that 35% had used study drugs with the figure 40% higher for those studying economics, computer science, engineering and veterinary science courses.

Most students believe that drug use can cause longer-term problems including mental health issues, criminal activity and health care costs. Female students are more likely to report concern for the effect of illegal drugs (92%) on the mental health of users than males (83%).

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