Student bash not all beer and togas

A slicker version of Orientation at the University of Canterbury is upon us - complete with international music acts, #hashtags, Instagram feeds and noise management plans. ANNA PEARSON discovers what goes into putting on 24 events for 40,000 students over two weeks.

In 1994, there was porridge wrestling. In 2001, Kiwi artists such as Neil Finn performed. In 2005, St John told The Press it was worried about party pills.

Last year, American rapper Macklemore played a sold-out gig to more than 4000 students.

Orientation is the University of Canterbury Students' Association's baby and it's growing up and joining the 21st century - at least behind the scenes.

This year's Orientation will be the product of - among other things - five full-time event co-ordinators, 3000 cable ties, 12,000-plus free sausages, 600 loaves of bread, 10,000 beaded necklaces from the United States for a Mardi Gras party, 300 metres of gaffer tape and a lot of planning.

For students, the programme advertised as "best two weeks of your life" and "bigger than a pair of Gerry Brownlee's Y-front undies", started on Monday.

For organisers, it started last year.

University of Canterbury Students' Association (UCSA) events team leader Sara Luckman says on average, each events co-ordinator will work 95 hours during Orientation.

On top of that, nearly 400 unpaid volunteers will contribute more than 20,000 hours of their time.

"We start planning in September [and] we start thinking about it a lot before then," Luckman says.

And the students?

"They just rock up, and they're like, ‘Oh . . . it's happening'. They think everything will just magically appear."

Luckman, a 27-year-old Lincoln University graduate, would have done some 12-hour days by now.

But she says it's worth it.

"Our events help students meet other students and interact," she says.

"If you have got a good [work/life] balance, then you are going to get better results in most of your exams."

She says while Orientation is "full on" - it still mixes rowdy students and alcohol, it has matured over the decades.

There are noise management plans, alcohol management plans, big sponsorship deals and cross-agency meetings with the police and other stakeholders.

"We send out 3000 letters to local residents at least two weeks prior to Orientation to let them know what we have planned. We work closely with the Christchurch City Council to ensure we adhere to our noise consent [and] after each event we have community clean-up crews that go around the neighbourhood to collect any rubbish," she says.

"Students will always want to have a good time, [but] I think what has probably changed a lot is how we deliver our events.

"We put a lot of time, energy and money into making sure that our events are safe . . . and to promote responsible drinking."

Luckman says intoxicated students are not just sent "back into the community". Instead, they are given "time out" and fed.

And when they sober up, they are given red wristbands, which means they are not allowed to drink. If they're not going to sober up, someone is called to pick them up - sometimes parents.

And then there are the 12,000 sausages. "They all pre-load. Pre-loading is a big problem we have. We provide a lot of free food on entry and on exit."

This is the first year the UCSA has sold naming-rights to the event - it's officially "UCSA Orientation - powered by Vodafone", and Luckman says another thing that has changed is student expectations - they demand a lot.

Macklemore, a Grammy award-winning rapper, set the bar extremely high.

"I think we will work more closely with [Otago University] next year . . . to secure acts . . . at a price we can afford."

It used to be that posters around the university were the main way students found out about Orientation events when they hit the campus.

But now, says Ryan Astle - the UCSA's media and communications team co-ordinator, "they see it on Facebook and tell their mates".

And then there's the #myoweek hashtag on Instagram, which students will no doubt flood with party antics.

Luckman says Orientation, put on exclusively by UCSA - a charity, is not a money spinner. It costs about $200,000 and this year's most expensive ticket is $45.

"The big thing is to make sure that the ticket price is student friendly, but covers costs. The event has to be sustainable."

The university's student bar, The Foundry, is owned and managed by the UCSA, and manager Sarah McCall is also in charge of alcohol at Ilam Fields, which is transformed into a party venue to cater for larger events.

Last year The Foundry alone sold 2500 litres of keg beer in two weeks.

On Monday, McCall had 4000 plastic cups in her possession, and was about to "probably order three or four times that amount".

There were 3000 people at last night's Australian headline acts Hermitude and Chet Faker at Ilam Fields.

McCall says the fortnight is adrenalin-fuelled - "I'm usually not far from a Red Bull", but it's satisfying to see smiles on students' faces.


Mardi Gras: 8pm Tuesday, featuring Sampology

Clubs Days: 11am Wednesday and Thursday, featuring 125 university clubs

Outdoor Movie: McConkey – at Ilam Fields – 8.30pm Wednesday

Comedy Club: 7pm Friday, featuring Ben Hurley, Rose Matafeo and Tom Furniss S

ummerstein: 2pm Saturday, featuring David Dallas & The Daylight Robbery.

The Press