University misleads on Facebook over student accommodation

A photo of “sample” student accommodation posted on Sunday by the University of Oxford Facebook page has caused controversy among Oxford students, who claim that the photo gave a misleading impression of college rooms to prospective applicants. The photo of what is, in fact, not a student room, but a guest room, at Magdalen College was one of several posted by the administrators of the page, but was singled out by students who suggested it looked like “Downton Abbey” or a “Victorian boudoir” with its size and original furnishings.

The photo was taken down yesterday. When contacted, the Magdalen Home Bursar, Mark Blandford-Baker, told Cherwell that the administrators of the university facebook page took the picture down because he complained that it was not a student room, unrepresentative of student accommodation in Magdalen, and the photograph had been reproduced without the college’s consent. “I agreed with the students’ points of view concerning perceptions as well as simple factual accuracy. The room is part of a guest study set.”

The Facebook post, which is still online, albeit without the first photo, says to the 2.3 million people who have ‘liked’ the page, that “Living as a student at Oxford, you may “live in halls” or “live out.” Living in halls means living in college accommodation (often in or very close to the college building). Living out means renting accommodation locally with a group of friends – typically around east Oxford’s lively Cowley Road area.” The other photos show students working in rooms, and houses on or near Cowley Road.

Some students complained in the since-deleted photo’s comments that the photo was misrepresentative of an Oxford experience by not taking the differences between colleges into account, whilst others claimed that this was not a typical room in Magdalen.

Ruth McDuff, entering her third year at Magdalen, commented to Cherwell, “I follow Oxford University on Facebook, and I think that all but this post are great representations of Oxford…potential students may feel they’re not getting the same Oxford experience or may be let down massively by their own accommodation.” Others had a different emphasis, with Anna Simpson, a third year student at Pembroke College, suggesting that the somewhat grandiose room perpetuated stereotypes of Oxford.

Emma Winder, a third year undergraduate at Magdalen and secretary of the JCR, stated, “I don’t think the University intended to mislead anyone (particularly potential applicants) when posting that particular photograph of Magdalen. I commented on Facebook because the photo stood out amongst the others on the post (which I would say are more representative of student accommodation), and because I’d never actually seen that room in Magdalen before, although I immediately guessed that it was one of the guest rooms in cloisters.

“I can understand that the photograph could be misleading, and several other people who commented on the photograph on Facebook said how beautiful it was and seemingly accepted that it was student accommodation as the post seemed to suggest. Nonetheless, it is a shame that the University didn’t use a different photograph of Magdalen student accommodation, as it is one of the few colleges to offer undergraduates college accommodation for the entire duration of their degree, and many of the student rooms in college are very beautiful.”

A University spokesperson told Cherwell, “The picture was posted in good faith and taken down once we were notified by Magdalen. As some of the posters pointed out, the University’s Facebook page engages people with Oxford very successfully, making us the world’s most talked-about University on Facebook last month.”