Fines for par­ty­ing won’t make stu­dents bet­ter neigh­bours

The Guardian Australia - - Opinion / The Guardian View - Coco Khan

Spare a thought for the UK univer­sity student for­ever locked in a los­ing battle against the Man. First they hiked the tu­ition fees, then their hous­ing costs, then po­lit­i­cally en­gaged stu­dents be­came fair game for the press to at­tack. And in a move so das­tardly, so wicked – an ex­is­ten­tial threat strik­ing at the essence of student life – they’re com­ing for their piss-ups.

This week it was re­vealed that party-mon­ster stu­dents at Bris­tol Univer­sity can be forced to take classes to learn how to be bet­ter (and more quiet) neigh­bours. It’s just one of a num­ber of pun­ish­ments – from evic­tions to fines rang­ing be­tween £50 and £300 – de­signed to curb the swelling tide of wasted, loutish stu­dents mak­ing town cen­tres and res­i­den­tial streets un­bear­able of an evening. It’s town v gown, and re­cent fig­ures put it at a £350,000 loss in fines on the student pop­u­la­tion.

When I first heard about these fines, alarm bells went off. There is ul­ti­mately some­thing quite sin­is­ter about a mem­ber of the pub­lic who has taken um­brage with some­one – for what­ever rea­son, some war­ranted and some not, some bi­ased and some not – be­ing able to have their dis­dain acted out via the strong arm of in­sti­tu­tional power. It re­minds me of my sweet 16 sum­mer, when a num­ber of the par­ents of the kids I hung out with at school were hit with an­ti­so­cial be­hav­iour or­ders.

Even then, we knew it was be­cause we were work­ing-class. That if hang­ing out in the back gar­den over a dis­pos­able bar­be­cue was less about smok­ing rol­lies, wear­ing sports­wear and lis­ten­ing to heavy metal or rap, and more about am­bi­ent Balearic house, sparkling perry and vol-au-vents, there wouldn’t be a prob­lem. As­bos were clas­sist through and through, and it does make me won­der how such univer­sity fines and pun­ish­ments are get­ting doled out. Will well-heeled stu­dents be de­terred or can they just af­ford to pay up? Though I must doff my cap to uni­ver­si­ties for the sheer in­ge­nu­ity of pun­ish­ments – from a ban on play­ing rugby to forced re­flec­tive let­ter writ­ing – no student is safe from the party po­lice.

Still though, what can be taught at a “good neigh­bour” class – given that neigh­bourli­ness is an area of civic life where con­text is ev­ery­thing. Take me. After a long day at work and a com­mute home in a sar­dine can, my favourite neigh­bour is the one who leaves me alone, not the one who catches me at the door to ex­plain at length why we sim­ply must start a pe­ti­tion about the bins. And give me the Satur­day night drinker over the Sun­day morn­ing vacuum user, any day. But at my mum’s in the qui­eter ’burbs, one cher­ishes the neigh­bour who stops by for a chat.

When I was in my fi­nal year at univer­sity, my next-door neigh­bour made sev­eral com­plaints about our par­ties (the old-fash­ioned way, bang­ing on the wall, be­fore even­tu­ally com­ing over to threaten us with the po­lice). Even­tu­ally we spoke to our neigh­bour di­rectly to apol­o­gise and to ask how we might find a com­pro­mise be­tween our com­pet­ing in­ter­ests. We ne­go­ti­ated. I learned a life les­son (that is, if in doubt, beg shame­lessly).

Student life is all about push­ing the boundaries and find­ing out what’s too far. So­cial­is­ing is also an im­por­tant as­pect of student life and if uni­ver­si­ties must charge the fees they do, and towns are ul­ti­mately en­riched by them, we should have some pa­tience for young peo­ple try­ing things out. Be­cause some­times you just can’t teach what ex­pe­ri­ence can pro­vide.

• Coco Khan is a Guardian colum­nist and fea­ture writer

‘Party mon­sters at Bris­tol Univer­sity can be forced to take classes to learn how to be bet­ter stu­dents.’ Pho­to­graph: Alamy Stock Photo

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