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When looking at the statistics of steadily-growing numbers of drug and alcohol consumption at German and Austrian universities, one might start wondering what kind of places these institutions of higher education are where more and more students are taking addictive drugs.
According to some surveys conducted in Germany, every third student drinks too much alcohol. Nearly 30 percent drink more than five pints in every drinking occasion. Students tend to take more psychotropic drugs than other young people at their age who are not enrolled in higher education programs. Cannabis in particular seems to have undergone a renaissance– more than 60 percent of students have already tried cannabis once, and almost 40 percent consumed it last year. The same trend can more or less be seen in Austria.
It seems that study-time has become a special period of a student’s life where they try out all kinds of addictive substances, from alcohol to stimulants to psychotropic drugs. Why put their health at risk, despite knowing the serious consequences of taking these drugs? Is it all about a pleasure-seeking attitude? Finding inspiration? No risk, no fun?
The individual reasons for taking drugs might vary from person to person. Yet, there are common features in societies that lead to certain phenomenon. We are living in a world of permanent pressure to perform. The competitive sense has never been as it is in our time. When asking students’ reasons for taking Ritalin, a psychostimulant drug, they may tell you they NEED it for maintaining or improving their performance.
When Austrian and German universities started to change their education system based on the Bologna Accords, they had everything in mind, except the humanistic elements of education itself. Almost all European countries have already adopted the Bachelor’s and Master’s degree system, in order to make quality assurance standards more compatible within Europe, which was the goal of the Bologna process.
For the sake of the new system, subject matters have to be compressed and crammed into a shorter study time. Students have to study under extreme time pressure in order to comply with the strict requirements. Besides this, many German and Austrian students have to work part-time in order to make their lives affordable. Forty-to-sixty-hour work weeks are nothing unusual among students nowadays. Taking addictive substances seems to be the chosen way to let out frustration, keep performing, and work like a robot.
The majority of students seems to follow a common pattern of life: Finish the university degree as fast as possible, start a career, become someone, earn money, have a family, take out a loan, and so forth. It is important to have some certificates in hand. Education has become a product for the market.
It failed to maintain its original mission– to emancipate students in a humanistic approach, leave them time and space to reflect, help them to develop a great sense for being critical, instead of digesting everything like fast food.
One might blame the system of capitalism that makes us all run like a hamster in a wheel. Yet, it is up to the responsibility and courage of each individual to break down this system.