Is student behaviour really getting worse? Is Castle Street going to hell in a handbasket? If you read only headlines, you might believe it is. But the headlines were the same twenty years ago – so what has changed?
When student loans were introduced a quarter of a century ago they were more generous, and rules around accessing them more lax. Anyone who ventured on a Friday night towards the Gardens Tavern risked never making it that far – since kegs lined Castle Street when loan monies came through.
The difference was there were no mobile phones to record transgressions. Back then, when a tree fell in the woods no one heard it. Fewer incidents were reported. People learned from their mistakes (or didn’t) away from the glare of the public eye. Because incidents are now filmed and aired on national television within a day, it is a far less forgiving climate. Students are seen by many as drunken misfits who contribute nothing to the cities they inhabit.
I’ve spent 11 years living on Castle Street and I don’t buy the argument that students are more troublesome than ever. If anything, I reckon over time, students have become considered more and more considerate. Plenty balance studies with volunteering. Plenty look for opportunities to make the world a better place.
Students still find time to have fun, and sometimes to make mischief, but today time for extra-curricular activities is more limited, and usually more wisely spent. It has to be. Academic assessment is relentless, and financial pressures dictate a more single-minded focus on prescribed courses.
Most encouragingly, there is a rising tide of students with sights aimed above the self-absorption that marked my generation’s university experience. Students have rediscovered a voice in social causes, lost for more than a generation. No one wants to grow up in a country marked out by a degraded environment, or second rate housing. Groups like Generation Zero, UN Youth, P3 and Ignite Consulting mark a wider trend towards University experience as preparation for Global citizenship.
Don’t believe the hype. Students of this generation take a bow. If the future is in your hands, it is brighter than people think.