Cash Church nets £1m in vacation takings

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Christ Church earned more this summer than Michael Owen – netting over £10,000 a day in revenue from conferences.

Both LMH and Christ Church raked in over £1 million in takings over the vacation, when their buildings were used to host study schools and conferences, according to data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

As savage cuts to higher education budgets and endowment investment losses have combined to make colleges feel the pinch, the competition to be Oxford’s premier conference location heated up this summer.

Christ Church cashed in on its status as the largest Oxford college, as well as its Harry Potter fame, charging guests up to £125 a night for a bed.

At Balliol, conference guests were asked to order from a ‘Fellow’s Menu’ that bears little relation to what fellows would normally eat – or expect to pay. Guests could rack up a £94.85-per-head bill for food alone, including a ballottine of foie gras starter at £20, an ‘intermediate course’ of lemon sole at £17, and a pineapple tarte tatin for £9.75.

Conferences have become big business for Oxford colleges – over the course of the last financial year St Catz generated around £2.12 million from conferences and functions, while Corpus Christi raised £2.15 million and Keble made around £2.16 million.

Though not all colleges are enjoying such seven-figure windfalls – last year Merton raised only £351,000 from such functions and Mansfield earned £435,000.

Colleges have also been busy milking the cachet associated with the Oxford name abroad to foreign students. This summer they raised hundreds of thousands of pounds hosting study programmes for high school pupils.

This year St Peter’s charged international students £4,025 each for a place on its five-week summer course, while St Hugh’s ran a study programme costing £3,120.

The University does not award academic credit to participants, and courses do not guarantee that credit will be transferred to a student’s home university, but it does give students the chance to put “studied at Oxford” on their CV. Leading American Tea Party activist Christine O’Donnell was recently revealed to have done just that.

Most blatant in this regard is cash-strapped Hertford, which runs the “Hertford International Programmes” – spawning the inevitable acronym HIP. Their glossy website promises students “the real Oxford experience” and the chance to “live and study in an Oxford college”. The website even adds “Hertford College International Programmes is [sic] part of Oxford University.”

Its self-styled “prestigious” programme includes an airport transfer and a gala dinner, while every participant receives a certificate. The website notes the college’s “particular expertise in teaching groups from China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan”.

The course is “a valuable experience in your life and your future career,” a promotional leaflet promises. The website is peppered with images of the Queen, Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter.

In addition, the college runs a “six-month programme” during term time, teaching general English and business English as a sideline to its Oxford University-approved courses. One of the key attractions to students is the ability to “live alongside Oxford University students…meals are taken in college.”

Christ Church’s ‘Oxford Experience Summer School’, hosted by the University’s Department for Continuing Education, offers an examination-free version of such courses.

Aimed at adult participants, the course provides specialist tuition in humanities subjects. Christ Church Steward John Harris also moonlights as an after-dinner entertainer, leading the guests in a tasting of Scotch malt whiskies.