Colleges must provide alcohol-free student accommodation under new rules

Government health drive also urges drug and alcohol-free social spaces on campus

Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor has tasked colleges with taking steps to reduce drug and alcohol abuse among students. Photograph: Laura Hutton

Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor has tasked colleges with taking steps to reduce drug and alcohol abuse among students. Photograph: Laura Hutton

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Third-level colleges will have to provide drug and alcohol-free student accommodation and provide on-campus social spaces without access to drink under a new Government health initiative.

The measures are contained in a “framework on tackling substance abuse” which was sent to the presidents of all higher-education institutions in recent days.

The move follows concern over drug use among young people following the deaths of a number of college students from suspected overdoses in recent years.

Last year, Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor convened a “rapid response group” – including academics, gardaí, students and first responders within institutions – to devise an action plan to deal with substance abuse on college campuses. She said the actions she is asking colleges to take on foot of this will ensure “all of our institutions have robust policies” to tackle these issues.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor said third-level institutions have a responsibility to promote and protect the health and wellbeing of students.

“The harm experienced by some students through the use of illicit drugs is a threat to their success,” she said.

The group’s report highlighted a lack of a sector-wide approach to the issue within higher education.

Framework

These findings have fed into the new framework which sets out key recommendations. They include a requirement that each college should gather data on drug use on an ongoing basis to provide a longitudinal look at the scale of the problem. In addition, each college should develop its own drug and alcohol policy, along with an action plan to be overseen by a senior officer of the institution.

Other recommendations are that colleges should provide drug and alcohol-free student accommodation and social spaces; allocate space for support groups working with those struggling with drug and alcohol abuse; consider safety issues such as potential drug and alcohol use while planning all large-scale student events; provide counselling services, along with accessible pathways for addiction assessment and treatment services for students; and provide training for staff and students in how to deliver constructive advice – or “brief interventions” – to students on these issues.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor said the data-gathering exercise will represent the “largest most comprehensive sector-specific data gathering on the issue of drug use in higher education in Ireland”.

A total of 14 higher-education institutions have already signed up to take part in the survey.

The Minister has funded a research group from University College Cork led by Dr Michael Byrne, head of the college’s student health department, to conduct the research.

“This will be a sector-specific, in-depth look at drug use and indeed non-use, among our students, looking in particular at their motivation to use and not to use drugs, the adverse consequences suffered, their willingness and capacity to change their drug use or to remain abstinent as well as the impact drugs have on their academic experiences,” she said.