Exeter JCR has passed a motion to boycott hall in protest against the disproportionately high living costs faced by their students compared to other colleges across the university.
The boycott will begin on 17th February and is aimed at forcing the college’s senior management to open a dialogue with students about the cost of living.
The motion was carried by a margin of thirty votes with five students choosing to vote against, although the list of proposers and seconders featured over a hundred names.
JCR President Richard Collett-White explained the reason behind the boycott. He said, “Exeter ranks bottom in Oxford for living costs satisfaction. We pay an £840 Catering Charge annually and yet more for each meal, making us the most expensive undergraduate college. It costs around £13 a day to eat in college taking the catering charge into account. This undermines our access efforts and affordability. Years of ‘negotiations’ have yielded precious little, leading to widespread demand for a boycott.”
However, the college’s Rector, Frances Cairncross, CBE, FRSE, told Cherwell, “We are having conversations with the JCR and MCR about their views on the catering charge, and taking the opportunity to explain to them the true nature of college finances, about which there seems to be some uncertainty in the student body.”
One student commented, “Everyone in the JCR is pissed off, so it is just a matter of whether people think that boycotting will work. I don’t really think we have any other option.”
Another Exeter student, who wished to remain anonymous, told Cherwell, “Our college has been running a healthy surplus for several years – this year it nearly reached a million pounds of unrestricted surplus! Exeter is not a poor college, we’re just shockingly expensive. There’s a feeling that something has got to give – that if nothing is done about it, the JCR will be plagued by this problem for years to come.”
The motion included a mandate for Collett-White to arrange a meeting with the college Rector, Bursar and catering managers where students could air their concerns about the cost of living in college. In an open email addressed to the Rector, along with catering staff, he said, “The hall charge imposed on members of the JCR is widely felt to be unjustly high, relative to other Oxford colleges, and any effort to reduce the cost of living for students is to be encouraged. The proposed open meeting is an opportunity for College to persuade students not to go ahead with a hall boycott. Students at the JCR meeting hoped this would involve an explanation of why the Fellows have set charges at Exeter far higher than other colleges, as well as providing greater transparency and some concrete proposals to reduce student dissatisfaction.”
The boycott follows on from past disputes between the college and the JCR over finance issues. In an email to the JCR, the president said, “College failed to provide any evidence of their financial difficulty or need and failed to produce the schedules (as they agreed to do in 2009). The information College provided OUSU about their living costs was incorrect and did not include the full catering charge.”
The JCR passed a similar motion last Trinity to hold a one day hall boycott. As a result, the college said they would explore alternatives and implement them by this Hilary term, but they have not yet fulfilled this promise. One anonymous Exeter student was optimistic about JCR support, saying, “Last year’s boycott had a 100% turnout! Because this is a longer boycott our focus is on ‘substantially reducing hall turnout’ rather than emptying hall entirely. It’s an optional boycott for students.”
The Campaign Communications Officer emphasised the need for community involvement, stating, “In order to make the boycott last we need to provide Hallternatives for Exeter students. Some colleges and local businesses have already agreed to help out but we would really appreciate any more practical support, so if you are a JCR president and know that your hall would be able to take a few Exeter students we’d love to hear from you.”
The JCR has spent £120 on utensils for cooking in the college’s sole kitchen and have arranged extra support from Balliol JCR.