The College has refused to reduce the catering fee, which is currently a whopping £840 a year. This is far greater than any other college, and Exeter students still have to pay high meal prices on top of this.
In negotiations with the college, the JCR and MCR proposed a modest reduction in this fee, by allowing for £100 of the catering fee to be redeemed.
This suggestion was not agreed to by the bursar, who instead made the small concession of four free Second Halls a term, worth about £22 in total.
In protest, students have organized ‘hall-ternatives’ for all three meals today which will allow students to eat in college for a much smaller fee than that charged by hall- around 50p for lunch and £1.50 for dinner.
Ed Nickell, the JCR president, stated: “As every JCR Member knows, Exeter is an incredibly expensive place to live. Ever since the last contract was signed, five years ago, the catering charge for students living both in and out of College has been subject to an exorbitant increase.
“But now, as this contract has finally expired, we have another chance to get a fair deal.”
He added: “Currently, Exeter has the largest catering charge in Oxford – in fact it is a whopping £126 bigger than the next largest, New College, and they are able to redeem their charge in Hall anyway. This brings the effective cost of breakfast to £3.09, lunch to £4.12 and Dinner to £8.24. We all agree this is not acceptable, and now, at last, we have a chance to do something about it.”
Current hall prices contributed to its extremely poor performance in a recent student barometer survey where the College was ranked bottom for living cost satisfaction, 2nd bottom for hall satisfaction and 3rd most expensive of all undergraduate colleges.
Sam Perkins, a second year from Exeter, commented: “Frustration has been building for a long time within Exeter, and given that we have finally got this opportunity to re-negotiate the catering charges, it is very important that we do something.
“I think that the fact that we haven’t been given anywhere as many opportunities to discuss things with the governing body is ridiculous, and hopefully by taking some joint symbolic action will make them realise that the student body really does worry about the scale of our living costs.”
The ‘Hall-ternatives’ event was organized after a JCR meeting last night, when the JCR resolved to make a statement before the Finance and Estates meeting due to be held on Wednesday.
In that short time, over 150 people have joined the Facebook group saying they are not going to hall, and many have left supportive messages about the event.
The issues surrounding the catering fee are closely intertwined with issues regarding the student rents for next year, which were discussed in the same meeting between the student representatives and the bursar.
The JCR and MCR proposed that rents be frozen, arguing that the financial situation of students has been fixed in recent years, while the college has benefited from a 12% increase in income from conferences and above-inflation rent increases.
Ed Nickell and Mishra Challenger, JCR and MCR presidents respectively, therefore wrote to the bursar stating that: “Rising costs mean that it is not possible to ensure both students and the College accounts are unaffected. Given that the costs must be borne, they should be borne on a basis of ability to pay. Unless there is convincing evidence that student ability to pay is greater than College’s, College should bear these costs.”
The Bursar responded to these comments in a letter sent to both Nickell and Challenger, arguing: “While I accept that some students do and will always struggle financially, an institution such as Exeter cannot base its rent charges on what the poorest student feels is affordable.
“It is the role of bursaries and other forms of academic grant and hardship funding to deal with genuine need and ensure, in as far as possible, the fairest distribution of limited resources… Any further subvention of resources to accommodation would necessitate a diversion from the funding of academic activities in the College.”