LMH students are campaigning against cuts to their vacation residence allowance which could cost them over £600 and seriously disrupt their revision plans.
The deal on vacation residence that students had expected to be in place this year was 10 free days vacation residence for those in their penultimate year of study, and 15 days for those in their final year. This deal is similar to vacation residence in most other Oxford colleges.
St John’s offers students 21 days vacation grant for each year of their course. Somerville operates a similar system, but with 14 nights per year (every year). Merton offers 30 days for the duration of the entire course and Jesus offers 17 nights per year
According to one member of the JCR Executive the new system could work out at just 8 free days or even less for every finalist who wants to stay. If the College choose to hand out vacation grants on the basis of means testing, it is likely that some students will receive no support at all.
The JCR held an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the plans. It was decided that a mass letter would be sent to senior members of the College. The letter states that “Many Finalists have already started planning revision timetables and budgeting for the year to come. As a result, suddenly discovering that we would not be receiving the free Vacation days to which we thought we were entitled has come as a shock.”
It also states that had students known they would not be receiving free vacation days then they may have chosen to live out for their final year.
Under the previous scheme, students could save up days to carry over into the next year, but students who have been saving up their allowance in preparation for their final year will no longer get their days.
Senior Tutor Dr Fiona Spensley has responded saying: “It is not correct that funding for vacation residence has been reduced. The college agreed with the JCR in 2007 to temporarily fund vacation residence up to a maximum of £20,000 a year for a limited period.
“It was also agreed that this system would be reviewed to ensure it remained affordable. We initiated consultation on this review last Trinity term via the JCR representative on our Grants & Bursaries committee. In fact, the college significantly over-spent the agreed funding last year as the demand for vacation residence from students increased and all applications for funding were paid without the prioritization systems being implemented.”
Spensley emphasised that the system is being reviewed in consultation with the JCR. She also stated that the Grants & Bursaries Committee did not propose that College reduce the fund this year, but that it should run the fund at the agreed level of £20,000 for 50 students for this academic year.
“We are currently consulting with student representatives as to the best allocation methods for vacation residence funds, but this is likely to be financial hardship.”
Biology finalist Tom Bishop said: “It wasn’t known that the system was meant to be temporary. It’s become a tradition that students expect. It seems a bit harsh to just take it away when finalists have planned revision around it.
“My first concern is my degree. Obviously everyone is worried about finals and this isn’t helping in terms of welfare or academics.”
He added: “I appreciate that the College has little money but this is clearly a really important issue and the College should try and make cuts in other things.”
Another LMH finalist said “students are worried about the effect these cuts are going to have on their academic achievement, a lot of students need to stay in Oxford for resources and had depended on staying over the vacation period.
“Furthermore, the amount the college is charging to stay in the Easter vacation, which is £123.90 a week, prices a lot of people out of staying for more than a very short amount of time.”
The College already charges one of the highest rents in Oxford at £1212 a term.
“I had planned on staying all of the vacation however even with the few days that we will still get free I will have to pay the college over £600 to do this, this isn’t money that me or my parents had budgeted for, nor can find at very short notice.”
Another JCR meeting is scheduled for 1pm on Friday, which the Senior Tutor will attend.
Bishop said that any further JCR action will depend largely on Spensley’s responses in the Friday meeting.