Can the pub be a student hub ever again?

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A very senior corporate executive once told me that he had achieved a first class degree at university in “girls and beer, but sadly not in my history degree”. His experience is not uncommon – after all, students are known to love a drink or two.

But new research suggests that the nature of student drinking has changed, with pubs missing out on their custom. Of those students who consume alcohol at university, 82% say they drink at home, followed by 68% at nightclubs. Only 52% of students who drink do so in pubs, according to a survey by Studentbeans.com.

So why is the pub no longer the social heartland it used to be? When I was at university, we sat around for endless hours in dingy watering holes, debating issues from world politics to which of us had most recently been burgled.

I think it comes down to the old issue of value. The cost of a pub experience now outweighs its value in many cases. After all, students are now paying fees of up to £9000. The number of applications to university this autumn has already slumped by almost 8% from last year, according to UCAS.

Students tend to live in shared properties, where they have a ready-made social life and so it is an easy choice to go to the off licence, rather than the pub. Then they can save their money for an experience like dancing in a club, which can’t be replicated at home.

So can pub brands regain their student audience? Studentbeans claims that brands such as Brothers cider and Smirnoff vodka are doing a good job of reaching out to students with experience-based campaigns.

The Smirnoff Nightlife Exchange involves live music events and in-store promotions in 50 countries. Meanwhile, Brothers has asked people to create a new flavour of cider through its Facebook page.

The challenge for pub brands will be tapping into students’ needs for low costs (82% are influenced by price when choosing a drink) while creating an experience that cannot be replicated within their own houses. That sounds easy, but with budgets so tight for students, it may be tricky to execute.

However, the opportunity is undeniably there for pubs. Two-thirds of students (62%) say they drink regularly, so the pubs that do get their value offer right will benefit from targeting this group of customers. It’s not too late to encourage students to feel that the pub is their heartland again, but it will take a new approach.

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