Following on from Dame Carol Black's independent review, which found a rise in young adults using drugs recreationally and wider concerns in the sector around how to respond to student drug use, Universities UK (UUK) have set up a taskforce looking at student drug use and university drug policy. School of Social Policy doctoral student Hanna Head has been appointed to chair the Student Advisory Panel.
"As a PhD student at the University of Birmingham, I’m really happy to be leading such a brilliant group of students," says Hanna. "I’m looking forward to making sure student views are considered at all stages, and am so grateful to have the opportunity to highlight the work that has previously been mainly done by students on a voluntary basis."
Hanna's PhD focuses on evolving approaches to policing drugs. "As well as centring student opinion, I hope to bring a wider knowledge of not only the literature surrounding student drug use and harm reduction, but also an understanding of what can be done under the current legal framework."
Student drug use is at an all-time high, and universities need help—now
Increasingly, universities have to deal with students who use drugs in a number of ways – either recreationally, or in a way that could be described as problematic. The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have shifted patterns of drug use, and universities are not alone in being expected to respond. Universities are however uniquely placed to support the vast number of students across the UK who are impacted by drug use, whether they themselves are using drugs or not.
These concerns are not new. Students have been actively campaigning for changes on their campus, through membership of Students for Sensible Drug Policy UK (of which I am a board member), individual work, and through their Students’ Unions. "I wrote my MA dissertation on the topic in 2018," says Hanna, "and little has changed since then. So although welcome, this is still a slow moving area that deserves a lot more attention and work."
The Universities UK taskforce will provide sector-wide guidance on dealing with drug abuse
"Guidance must include dispelling myths around harm reduction, and addressing concerns about reputational risks that plague university senior management, to better support students and centre their wellbeing above all else," Hanna explains. "I want universities to feel like they need to do this work now; I want students to be safer, to be able to get appropriate support if they want it, and for no more students to be unnecessarily introduced into the criminal justice system."
Hanna is an ESRC-funded PhD student, working alongside the charity Release to explore innovative police approaches to reducing drug related harms.
She identifies as disabled, and juggles multiple chronic health issues while studying, alongside being a Westmere Scholar. She is also a board member for Students For Sensible Drug Policy UK, and works on campaigning for sensible drug education and policies in higher education institutions.
Prior to joining the University of Birmingham, Hanna completed her MA Comparative Drug & Alcohol Studies at Middlesex University, where she was awarded the Yvonne Heard Award in Criminology for best postgraduate dissertation. She has also previously worked as a research assistant for Release, and has been a trustee for several charities including Yellow Door (formerly Southampton Rape Crisis & Women's Aid) and Mentor. Get in touch with Hanna.