STUDENTS are being labelled the blot on our community, paying little or no regard to the neighbourhoods they live in, disturbing young and old residents in the middle of the night, vandalising property and making a mess everywhere they go.

But is it actually their fault? Are we blaming the right people?

Perhaps the starting point should be the cheapness of drinks, particularly on a Tuesday night.

If the drinks didn’t cost so little – some are even given away free – would students be out there drinking to the same extent?

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Then there are the promotions to throw into the equation. It’s almost impossible to walk between London Road and Bedford Place on Tuesdays without being handed a fistful of fliers offering alcohol at ridiculous prices.

They are used, quite blatantly, to entice students and other punters into pubs and clubs desperately competing to attract custom.

Unsurprisingly, the police, Southampton City Council and charities working to combat the effects of alcohol all argue there is a direct link between low prices and the amounts people knock back.

Further, any cursory glance down London Road on a night out will reveal the people taking advantage of the bargain booze are not just those living in university halls or student digs.

In these recession-hit times more so than probably any point in recent history, cheap drinks attract everybody – not just students.

And while some pubs and clubs in the Bedford Place area will only admit students on a Tuesday night, many make no such distinction.

Sixth-formers and young professionals are among those mingling with undergraduates in search of the next cut-price drink.

Meanwhile, it’s interesting to note that student numbers at both the University of Southampton and Southampton Solent University have remained fairly static over the last decade, with around 30,000 overall, meaning any perceived difference in behaviour is likely due to external factors – such as the price of alcohol.

Both universities stress the emphasis they put on encouraging sensible drinking and their liaison work in the community with police, the council and residents’ groups to help ensure harmony.

No bars on campuses or in halls of residence offer drink promotions, and all display information warning of the dangers of alcohol.

Solent University says it takes very seriously the damaging impact excessive drinking can have on students’ experiences.

“The university is fully behind any initiative which encourages bars to raise the minimum price of drinks, and support bars looking at alternative promotions, such as food offers, which would encourage safer levels of drinking, while giving students a good deal,” said a spokeswoman.

“The Students’ Union would fully support a rise in the minimum price for alcohol in Southampton and the inclusion of a standard by which all bars and clubs would abide.”

Finally, while the accusations and counter-claims fly, are we losing sight of one rather important economic fact?

Our universities pour in tens of millions of pounds to help oil the wheels of the city’s economy.

In 2007, research showed the University of Southampton’s students spent £195m on day-to-day things like eating, drinking, travelling and shopping – enough to support around 2,500 full-time jobs.

The universities also employ 7,500 people between them – the University of Southampton’s annual wage bill is £71m – and promote Southampton around the globe.

And when it comes to students, the benefits they bring don’t just come from their wallets.

Both universities have a wide range of clubs and societies, many working with organisations in the community, contributing the equivalent of £1m of time to voluntary projects.

“More than 1,500 of our students every year engage in a wide range of voluntary activities in local schools, running sports clubs and arts activities, and are in classrooms supporting teachers,”

said University of Southampton pro vice-chancellor Debra Humphris.

“Elsewhere, some of our music students are performing in residential care homes and have set up tea dances.

“And that’s just a small snapshot – there are over 150 clubs and societies in our very vibrant students’ union.”

And the benefits don’t end there.

Once they’ve finished their studies, around a third of graduates from both universities stay in Southampton, contributing to a well-educated workforce.

“Much of Solent’s courses portfolio is tailored to the needs of the economy and the skills needed by employers, including employerdeveloped foundation degrees and degrees that can be studied for while employees are working,” said Solent’s spokeswoman.

Four page investigation inside today's Daily Echo, including stories on:

How did get so bad?
The benefits of a large student population
• Will price hikes solve the problems?
• Students have their say
• Police view on the booze problem
Harassed by drunk students after heart surgery
• The cost of the clean-up
• Why is booze so cheap on weeknights?