A London university is considering establishing alcohol-free zones on its campuses because so many of its students consider drinking to be immoral.
Professor Malcolm Gillies, vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University, said the selling of alcohol was an issue of “cultural sensitivity” at his institution where a fifth of students are Muslim.
Speaking to a conference of university administrators in Manchester, he said that for many students, drinking alcohol was “an immoral experience”.
“Because there is no majority ethnic group [at London Metropolitan], I think [selling alcohol] is playing to particular parts of our society much more [than to others],” he was reported as saying in the Times Higher Education magazine.
He said he saw little reason for the university to subsidise a student bar on campus when there were “at least half a dozen pubs within 200m”.
He told the Guardian the makeup of his institution had changed considerably over the past few decades. In the past it had been “substantially Anglo Saxon – now 20% of our students are Muslim,” he said.
“We therefore need to rethink how we cater for that 21st-century balance. For many students now, coming to university is not about having a big drinking experience. The university bar is not as used as it used to be.”
Gillies also told the conference that universities needed to be more cautious in their portrayal of sex than in the past.
“We’ve got a younger generation that are often exceedingly conservative, and we need to be much more cautious about sex too,” he said. Many female Muslim students were taken to university by a close male relative. “Their student experience is going to be different from someone who is gorging out in the Chocoholics Society or someone who is there to have a … libidinous time.
“How will we service the changing balance of our students unless we ourselves evolve?”
Alaa Alsamarrai, the vice-president of student affairs for the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, said Muslim students wanted universities to be inclusive so that students “from all walks of life can come and share experiences”.
“Alcohol is a barrier to many Muslim students participating in freshers’ events and often in society activities, so we are in support of moves to have alcohol-free zones and events,” she said. “However, if a student wants to drink, we don’t want to ban them from doing that.”
Research published in 2008 by academics at the universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York shows that a student’s alcohol consumption declines over the course of his or her studies. The researchers found 90% of students consume alcohol at least once a week, which is broadly in line with the general population.