The hidden costs of trashing revealed

Trashing is officially banned in the University's regulations, but that doesn't stop them from paying out £25,000 in security and cleaning costs

Photo: ©

Post-exam trashings cost the University £25,000 a year, Cherwell can reveal.

Security staff were paid £20,000 in overtime in 2017 to control celebrations, while a further £1,881 was spent on hiring barriers to manage pedestrian flow.

A further £3,500 was reimbursed to Oxford City Council, who clean Merton Street following trashings.

A University spokesperson told Cherwell: “inconsiderate, entitled behaviour passed off as ‘trashing’ can damage Oxford students in the minds of the community and the wider public.

“Getting through examinations is a milestone but we urge our students to find ways to mark this which are far less damaging, costly and – frankly – annoying to community neighbours, the City Council and fellow members of the University.”

The University also reiterated that participating in trashing can lead to fines and disciplinary action.

Several colleges have attacked the tradition. Mansfield labelled it “stupid…damaging to the environment, and wasteful”, while Corpus Christi said trashing was “just not classy”.


According to the University’s code of conduct, trashing is banned. Section 3.3, Part 1 of the regulations states: “No student member shall, in any place or thoroughfare to which members of the general public have access within six miles of Carfax, throw, pour, spray, apply or use any thing or substance in a way which is intended, or is likely, (a) to cause injury to any person, or (b) to cause damage to, or defacement or destruction of, any property, or (c) to cause litter.”

Similarly, it is officially an offence even to be “in possession of any thing or substance with intention to [trash]”, and to “gather without the prior permission of the Proctors in a public thoroughfare within 300 metres” of a place where an exam is being held around the time of its completion.

The University also confirmed that it informs Thames Valley Police of locations that trashing is expected to take place.

While most reports about trashings suggest that it started in the mid-1990s, Cherwell can reveal that it dates back to the 1970s.

Reports from alumni suggest that the tradition caused logjams on the High Street several times a term, and regularly led to fines from proctors.


Cherwell has reported on disciplinary offences related to trashings since the 1980s. A news piece in the final edition of Trinity term 1986 said that all students had been sent an official letter from the Proctors “threatening arrest for those who persisted in holding post-Finals celebrations on the High Street”, after the Thames Valley Police said that charges of obstruction and littering would be brought against them.

The then-Junior Proctor, Dr Paul Slack, said: “Twenty years ago, when I was a student, none of this went on. We used to retire quietly to our rooms to drink champagne. The whole matter has got out of hand.”

Similarly, archive photographs show that students have been using silly string and fizzy wine for over 30 years, although the use of shaving foam is more recent.

The word “trashing” has been used since the early 1990s, and in 1996, the proctors described the concept as a “perennial problem”. They said: “it can be offensive and dangerous, and it does the University’s name no good. [The problem is] exacerbated nowadays by the example set by Formula One racing drivers and by television slapstick.”

In 2007, OUSU President Martin McCluskey urged students to tighten their privacy settings on Facebook, after it emerged that proctors had been using social media to identify who had been involved in trashings.

That year, the proctors fined students over £10,000 in trashing-related offences, more than five times the total that had been raised in all fines in the previous proctorial year.

The following year, Oxford pubs banned trashed students from entering the premises, while the Kings Arms banned any student wearing a gown during exam season.

In 2011, the proctors sent an email to all students reminding them that certain substances were “a disgrace, and potentially dangerous”. They said: “No flour, no eggs, no beans, ketchup, let alone rotting food or worse. Rotting food, vomit, broken glass and other items causing litter are simply not what any of us wants to see. They are a disgrace and potentially dangerous.”

The same year, one student was fined £80 for throwing a trifle at a finalist.

Are trashings worth the 25k cost? 

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In 2012, there were allegations that two members of staff were assaulted outside of Examination Schools by a celebrating finalist, although Thames Valley Police claimed the men “were not injured”.

In 2014, a now-defunct website called for trashing supplies was set up. A member of the team said: “[Trashing] is a unique thing about Oxford which makes it particularly special: I do not know of any other universities where people come to see their friends when they finish their exams. Trashing marks the end of your degree, and the beginning of summer and real life – and as such, is a symbolic and integral part of Oxford life.

Last summer, Christ Church Meadow was shut in order to prevent students from trashing each other there. A notice on the gates of the main entrance said: “For the next six weeks, while examinations take place, Merton Gate and Rose Lane Gate will be closed for three hours or so twice a day to prevent undergraduates from ‘trashing’ in Christ Church Meadow, which creates an appalling mess.

“Students have also been causing a nuisance and putting the safety of members of public at risk, hence we are taking this measure to ensure that the Meadow remains a quiet place for people to enjoy.

“We are also liaising with security services of the University of Oxford and the proctor’s office. We apologise for the inconvenience this temporary gate closure will cause members of the public.”


  1. I once worked for the security team on a PT basis for finals, checking bags for prohibited items. The only thing that bothers me is the use of food items. Such as eggs, food colouring. Once I even confiscated a Tesco value jar of Bolognese sauce!

    • Do you have any idea why normal shaving foam is allowed while shaving gel is banned? It seems kind of inconsistent. Also, did you see any really creative things that people brought at all which weren’t banned?

      • Yes. The Gel does not disperse as well on the cobbles and therefore causes a hazard to people at and after the event.

  2. I love trashing (with the exception of food as that’s a total waste or anything really disgusting/unhygenic), and I think the tradition a brilliant quirk of Oxford which it would be a massive shame to lose.

    I even know of a fairly socially conservative tutor (opposed to same-sex marriage, supportive of the dealth penalty in some cases and wears a monocle which is good style) who trashed one of his students, so it just seems like it’s one of the things that makes the university great, and in the grand scheme of things it costs, what £1.50-£2 per student on average?

    Trashing almost certainly contributes more to the local economy from purchases than it costs the university to deal with the aftermath, and potentially even raises the government more in VAT than it costs the university, so I’m kind of confused what the issue is here apart from the environmental impact (which the Oxford Student reports that the Green Trashing campaign is set up to counter anyway).

      • I’d have thought that tourists would love it myself (mess surely brings in tourists for Spanish festivals like El Tomatina, no?). Yes food is gross and not something I like people using (and I have qualms anbout the university banning that), but I don’t believe that most people really care much about a bit of glitter or shaving foam.

        I realise that posting anonymously by a Latin name may not give the best impression of Oxford (and no I don’t do classics, infact I used google translate for the name), but rest assured that I purely do it for humorous purposes (seriously, looking down on people that weren’t fortunate enoughtto be able to get in to Oxford is not OK). We really do want access issues in admissions improved, and I myself think that trashing, is just a bit of mostly harmless fun after exams.

  3. I was at Oxford in the 1980s. There was some “trashing” then but not much, and it wasn’t called that. It happened outside the Examination Schools, not in college. The University needs to get a grip on the practice. Anyone caught trashing should be made to sit their exams again.


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