University taverns would be closed, alcohol education incorporated into every degree and compulsory volunteer work made a condition of graduation under ideas raised by a panel of eminent West Australians yesterday.
Universities are synonymous with drinking and the issue became a central topic at a forum on expectations of universities hosted by Curtin University and including Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan and Tonya McCusker, philanthropic sponsor of the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth and wife of Governor Malcom McCusker.
Ms McCusker said while universities had traditionally been viewed as places of education they had a responsibility to look more broadly towards health and community initiatives.
"When students enter universities it's at a critical stage in life," she said.
"They've got that freedom. You go to lectures, you go out to parties. There's a real youth binge drinking culture but it has to be the responsibility of universities to address this."
Ms McCusker said universities had led the way in relation to smoking - particularly in WA where all university campuses were smoke-free - mental health and physical fitness research.
"But when it comes to the culture of alcohol that's something that needs to be addressed," she said.
"[For example] should we have taverns on campus? Because it's not only for the individual - there are 5000 deaths per year because of alcohol - but the broader impact on our communities.
"We don't want to be called the nanny state but ... there are huge ramifications on the whole community and universities can take a big stand on that."
Dr O'Callaghan said all first-year students should be taught respect, community values and responsibility and encouraged to do volunteer work as part of the curriculum.
"It would seem to me with the reach particularly to younger people coming into universities, there's an option at the beginning of any degree to do something which ... you might call Citizenship 1A, which might have as part of that a whole range of things including volunteering," he said.
"If it was part of the first year of a degree we'd at least set younger people up for a different view on life ... about alcohol, binge drinking and health, [and] thinking about the community."
Curtin University Vice Chancellor Jeanette Hacket said her university already had moved on the issue, cancelling the annual Oktoberfest event that promoted heavy drinking to 5000 people who attended.
However, there were more opportunities for practical change, including weaving education about alcohol and community values into university curriculums and ensuring student guild fees were not "pumped into drinks".
"Universities have got to accept responsibility for the activities on their campus," Professor Hacket said.
"There's probably inadequate information around the negative effects of alcohol. We've seen, particularly in WA, the enormous success of the anti-smoking public health campaign ... [and] I think there's an enormous opportunity [with binge drinking] and universities certainly can play a role."
Curtin University recently received funding for a groundbreaking project that aims to understand where people acquire their beliefs surrounding "normal" drinking behaviour.
However, the project coordinator, Jude Comfort, told the forum to remember that the anti-smoking campaign had taken 60 years to get to today's standards and messages about alcohol harm would be similarly difficult to spread.
"This is going to be a long, fought out battle; it's not going to happen overnight," she said.
The panel discussed an idea being considered in the United Kingdom to establish a year of compulsory community service for youths, as well as a suggestion put to the panel to allow students to work off their university fees through volunteer work.
Head of Edith Cowan University's Centre for Indigenous Australian Education and Research, Colleen Hayward, said while it was important to recognise volunteer work, financial rewards defeated the purpose.
"We want [students to participate] for the right reasons - community mindedness - not because the path is a bit easier or we get a reduction in [university] fees," she said.
Federal Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research Chris Evans said the "world had changed" and older generations could not expect to dictate to younger people about how to behave.
"I don't think we should be lecturing to young people about how they should be organising their lives," he said.
"Universities have a role to engage in the community, I think that's right, but they're not solely responsible for social problems in our community.
"We move from blaming our schools to police and now universities are responsible for those things. Alcohol problems in the community start with adults, not with [youths].
"You go to Rottnest Island and watch adults drinking alcohol [and] it's a bit hard to lecture the kids in my view."
Dr O'Callaghan said greater collaboration between universities, the police and governments on how to deal with social issues such as anti-social behaviour would provide better answers.
"We don't use universities half as much as we should to provide research or information on what we should do next," he said.
"[For example], everyone currently is coasting around to work out we might do about so called out-of-control parties. Government has solutions which lie in legislation only. Police have solutions which lie in operations only and we don't have the answers to those sort of things.
"There's a whole range of practical research outcomes that universities could get involved in and give to use in plain, simple language that would help us make better decisions about those sort of things.
"[Police are dealing with] difficult, protracted social issues that we really have no information on and ... [university research could] better inform the sort of complex decisions that we find ourselves having to make."