What to do about the Catering charge?

Nobody likes bills, but to be told in Freshers’ Week that in order to begin your studies, you are required to pay £280 simply for the privilege of setting foot in the only on-site eating place is something else.

Such is the fate of every student at Exeter College. Exonians have long wondered why other colleges manage to provide an affordable service while they have to budget at least £85 a week just for food. Indeed, to look at the healthy surplus detailed in our yearly Donors’ Report and yet to accept battels as fair would amount to a sort of masochism. After years of discontent on the part of the student common rooms, the problem of the dreaded Catering Charge has finally come to a head. So both JCR and MCR have passed motions calling for a hall boycott and regular protests, as a symbolic act of defiance.

Students are taking this opportunity to make plain their opposition to the high cost of eating at Exeter, relative to other colleges, with the intention of forcing the SCR’s attention onto this perennial problem and hopefully stirring their consciences in the process.

College management are viewed by most as possessing a bloody-minded intransigence when it comes to money, with previous student representatives claiming to have been “steam-rolled” through rent negotiations. Because after all, students are to be seen and not heard – yet another nod to Oxford’s almost Victorian ways.

As well as pushing students into hardship, the Catering Charge is opposed on grounds of Access. If Exeter wants to take its work in this area seriously – which I sincerely hope it does – something must be done about this obstacle to attracting less well-off applicants. The Rector has said herself that one of her greatest regrets is the lack of success the college has had with Access during her time here. I don’t think it is a mere coincidence that we rank both top of the table for living costs and near-bottom for state school intake. It’s all very well to say we provide hardship bursaries – but then so does every college!

Our high living costs make for a college in discord. Virtually no one has a positive word to say about the college authorities, and relations between the SCR and student common rooms couldn’t get much worse. Let’s hope our demonstration yesterday (with chants of “We’ve got beef!”, “Less cash for mash!”, and “We’ll fight our battels and win!”) had some impact. One thing should be clear to College: given our heavy dependence on alumni donations, the current strategy is surely one of staggering, self-defeating short-sightedness.