Town and gown

This month sees the population of Dunedin swell as the swarm of some 25,000 students returning for the start of the tertiary year brings a youthful buzz to the city.

Some are returning to their undergraduate courses, some undertaking higher study and some fresher-faced youngsters will be leaving home for the first time to begin their tertiary study - and their foray into the adult world.

They are here to study in a vast range of fields - from fine arts to the performing arts, from languages, business, science, medicine and teaching, to physical education and outdoor pursuits, the hospitality sector, or in the building or engineering trades. And there is no doubt many of them also choose to come to Dunedin to study in the ''university of life''.

Dunedin has a unique student environment. The main education providers and majority of student accommodation are predominantly found in North Dunedin. The densely populated student quarter offers thousands of young people a wonderful way to socialise with like-minded people in similar stages in their lives and in a relatively safe, supportive, easily accessible environment in a town which undoubtedly appreciates the injection of income students bring to the local economy - but also their youth, diversity and energy.

The city is proud to harbour and nurture the future minds and workforce of our country and send them out into the world armed with the skills and knowledge they have gained at our respected educational institutions. We are also proud to show off to them our city - its heritage, natural environment and wildlife, our impressive sporting and cultural assets, our festivals and tournaments, our produce, our technology and innovation, our artists, music and entertainment.

We are fortunate to have them live in our accommodation, eat and drink in our cafes and bars, shop in our retail outlets and often work part-time alongside or for us. We know the tens of thousands of students graduating each year are some of our best ambassadors, and the experience they leave with is pivotal in the message about the city they will spread when they return to their home towns throughout New Zealand or head overseas to ''take their place in the world'' and fly the Kiwi flag.

It is for all these reasons the city not only lays out the welcome mat, but is also generally tolerant of some of the high-spirited antics that inevitably come with such a predominance of young people in a small area. Orientation activities, nude rugby games, the capping show and graduation parades all add colour and flavour to Dunedin life - for everyone. But, of course, it can be a fine balance and the relationship between town and gown can become stretched, with the beginning of each year often a flashpoint.

Students beginning their ''Dunedin experience'' may be high on the possibilities of their new-found freedom - not to mention alcohol or drugs - but they should remember that some activities that start as fun can rapidly slide into antisocial behaviour which has all been seen before by permanent Dunedin residents. When drunken hijinks turn into violence, destruction of property and street disorder, there should certainly be no expectation that playing the student card should get anyone out of jail free.

Criminal and dangerous activity will not be tolerated by police, the fire department, health services, the university or polytechnics, the council, businesses or residents who have to deal with the aftermath. Scenes such as the violent drunken rampages which have occurred during past toga party parades, Hyde St keg parties or Undie 500s do students, other hangers-on and the city no favours in terms of the negative coverage they attract and the negative image they portray. Just as the city benefits from the good times, so, too, is its reputation tarnished by the bad behaviour of a minority of students.

The relationship between town and gown is symbiotic and long-standing. But what has been learnt over the years is that it must be based on mutual respect and appreciation - and perhaps a bit more education and leeway on both sides.