Universities must tackle dangers of initiation ceremonies – UUK

In a new briefing from Universities UK, Prof Chris Day says universities are "well-placed" to tackle unhealthy drinking culture

Universities have been warned about the need to tackle the dangers of initiation ceremonies.

New guidance has been published by Universities UK (UUK) following the death of a first-year undergraduate at Newcastle University in 2016.

Ed Farmer died as a result of excessive drinking at a university agricultural society initiation. The coroner, Karen Dilks, called on universities to implement better inductions on the dangers of such behaviour.

The new UUK briefing was written in collaboration with Newcastle University and begins with a letter from Ed’s parents, Jeremy and Helen Farmer.

In a statement following the release of the briefing, Jeremy Farmer said: “As a family we appreciate the difficulties in stopping these needless deaths but would like to thank all those involved within the university sector who are working hard to try and reduce the risks of something similar happening again, without impacting on the social lives of students.”

The challenge is to ensure that we do not seek to control student behaviour while at the same time, making it clear to students that universities are communities
– Prof Chris Day, Newcastle University

Prof Chris Day, chair of the report and vice-chancellor and president of Newcastle University, said the sector faces a challenge in tackling initiations ceremonies.

“The challenge is to ensure that we do not seek to control student behaviour while at the same time, making it clear to students that universities are communities in which certain standards and expectations must be upheld to ensure that the experience for students is a safe and inclusive one for all,” Prof Day wrote.


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The briefing calls on all universities to adhere to new guidelines which include:

  • Adopt a clear definition of what constitutes an initiation and prohibited behaviour
  • Work to prevent initiations as part of harassment and wellbeing strategies
  • Update policies and improve reporting
  • Discipline and sanction students who break policies – but avoid a ‘zero tolerance approach’
  • Raise awareness among staff and students and improve training
  • Work with local council and licensees to improve cultural of surrounding campus

Day says the number of initiations that result in death or serious harm is low, but added: “It may not be only physical harms that occur during these activities, and it is important that the psychological impact is equally recognised.”