Fellows’ free food furore

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A former government minister has criticised Oxford for providing free lunches for college dons as students face a massive rise in tuition fees.

David Lammy, former Labour minister for Higher Education, called the provision of free meals “antiquated” and said Oxford academics should not be allowed a “free lunch on the taxpayer”.

The tradition of dons dining together is long-standing at Oxford, although arrangements vary from college to college.

Speaking at question time in the Commons, Mr Lammy said, “Can it be right that we are asking students to pay more when there are clearly some universities that have not sorted out their inefficiencies?”

He added, “If universities want to charge students treble what they are paying now, they have to do their bit to make the degrees value for money.

“It can’t just be the students that foot the bill. The dons have to give up their perks too. If all the cuts are being passed on to students, then there has to be a review, not just of access but also of antiquated practices.”

However, a spokeswoman for the University said, “Oxford college lunches are not funded by the taxpayer, nor by student fees. The public funding colleges receive for undergraduate teaching nowhere near covers the costs of undergraduate teaching, let alone covering any other college costs.

“In fact, both the central University and the colleges heavily subsidise the cost of undergraduate teaching from their own private funds, and will continue to do so under any future student finance arrangements.”

The University said entitlement to meals in college was more than “just a job perk” and that it is “part of the close-knit and interdisciplinary nature of Oxford’s unique college environment where academics from different disciplines can gather and share ideas.”

Alex Wright, a second year History student, said, “Dons deserve a free meal every now and then. Oxford is a world-class university, and these traditions are part of its history. David Lammy is missing the point.”

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