Poorer students can feel excluded during freshers' week warns watchdog

Poorer students can feel excluded during freshers’ week and may find the rituals strange, university watchdog warns

  • Drinking culture of freshers’ week ‘exclusionary’ for disadvantaged students
  • Last week, campuses welcomed first-year students with a week of freshers’ fairs
  • Some students who dropped out  ‘had no idea how to meet people’ on campus

It may seem like a staple of student life. But the drinking culture during freshers’ week can be ‘exclusionary’ for disadvantaged students, the universities watchdog has warned.

Universities must work harder to make all students feel welcome, said John Blake, director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students. Last week, campuses welcomed first-year students with a week of freshers’ fairs, student society events and clubbing.

But Mr Blake said students who are the first in their family to go into higher education may find the rituals strange and not understand the ‘rules of engagement’. He even warned it may lead students to drop out, citing examples of some who ‘had no idea how to meet people’ on campus.

It may seem like a staple of student life but the drinking culture during freshers’ week can be ‘exclusionary’ for disadvantaged students

‘We learned a long time ago that running freshers’ nights that are entirely [about] drinking are exclusionary and unpleasant,’ Mr Blake said.

The state-educated former teacher said he was ‘absolutely baffled’ by ‘some of the things that were happening’ when he arrived at Oxford. ‘It took me a long time to realise that it wasn’t my fault,’ he said.

Last week, campuses welcomed first-year students with a week of freshers’ fairs, student society events and clubbing

‘I didn’t understand those things. They were the products of a world I just wasn’t familiar with.’

Mr Blake’s speech at the Social Mobility Foundation came amid a drive by the watchdog to hold universities to account on how well they recruit and retain disadvantaged students.

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