UCC to pilot novel drink-free accommodation

As Irish universities return for the start of a new college term, one school is piloting an unlikely new initiative: alcohol free dorms.

University College Cork (UCC) has become the first university in Ireland to offer such accommodation and says that the move will allow students who want to experience university in a more sober mind-frame the ability to do so.

The university's Health Promotion Officer, Deirdre Griffin, said that the specialist hall would allow students and staff to "take control over and improve their well-being" adding that it developed on UCC's broader selection of specialist need accommodation, which already includes dorms specifically for fluent Irish language speakers, single-sex dorms, as well as one for mature students only.

The college added that the alcohol free dorm, at Victoria Lodge, would appeal to international students whose "religious and cultural backgrounds" might preclude them from drinking alcohol altogether or limit the frequency with which they imbibe.

Final year and postgraduate students have also reportedly expressed a strong interest in the new trial project.

The news gained national and local media coverage and even spawned a #dryapartments hashtag on Twitter. Most blog commentary was positive on the new option.

The healthy new dorms were announced after a 2010 health and well-being survey at the university showed up a "concerning" pattern of binge drinking among both male and female undergraduate students, which found that almost half of the cohort engaged in binge drinking more than once a week.

Almost all students that reported partaking in the frequent binge drinking said that it had led to adverse consequences, with "regretting something said or done", experiencing the "adverse effects" of drinking while at lectures, and missing school altogether among the most frequently reported negative consequences.

Those looking to gain a spot in the drink-free accommodation must provide the university with a detailed personal statement outlining why they specifically wish to live under such arrangements.

Those found to have drunk on the dorms will face penalties "in line with current university disciplinary procedures," according to the college, whose subsidiary, UCC Campus Accommodation, manages most of the non-private college rental market in Cork.

Despite Ireland's heavy drinking culture, the university's accommodation office has reported a "very strong uptake" on the new flats, with another Irish university -- the University of Limerick -- considering introducing the novel form of housing for the 2014 term.

The move follows on from previous efforts to clamp down on problem drinking at the college which included a ban on "mystery tours" -- bus trips with an unknown location --- effected in 2010.