Exeter JCR are using a boycott to pressure the college to hold an open meeting with students over an “unjustly high” Hall charge.
JCR President Richard Collett-White was mandated to email key figures in college such as the Rector and Bursar to complain about the £840 annual charge, which he said was “widely felt to be unjustly high, relative to other Oxford colleges”.
A motion to boycott Hall passed Sunday’s JCR meeting with more than a hundred students in support. The boycott will now begin on Monday of 5th week, with a launch party this Sunday.
Concerns were raised over the fact that there is only one JCR kitchen available for student use. “During the meeting, students discussed the difficulties of the planned boycott at length. This included the problem of there being only one small JCR kitchen for such a large number of people, making it a challenge for students to prepare nutritious meals for an extended period of time,” Collett-White said in the email.
“Yet despite these concerns, 90% voted in favour of the boycott. Students also emphasised their readiness to protest the catering charge actively and visibly in the coming weeks.
“This is a measure, I think, of just how disaffected the JCR has become, and a sign of the urgent need to find meaningful solutions,” he added.
As well as the Rector, Bursar and the JCR, the email was sent to Catering Manager Kate Grove and Assistant Catering Manager Lesley O’Donovan.
According to students leading the campaign, the JCR requested five meetings to discuss rents and charges last year, but the Bursar and Accountant met with them just once.
A similar hall boycott took place in Trinity last year, after which, according to a third-year leading the campaign, the Governing Body pledged to explore alternatives to the catering charge by Michaelmas term, to potentially implement by Hilary Term. The student further claimed that last year’s boycott had a 100% turnout, however emphasised that since the aim was for this boycott to be longer: “It’s an optional boycott for students.”
A Facebook page has been set up to share information about alternative catering arrangements for Exeter students, including using other college’s halls.
Collett-White said in a statement that the charge had a negative effect on access efforts.
“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,” he said. “This undermines our Access efforts and affordability. Years of ‘negotiations’ have yielded precious little, leading to widespread demand for a boycott,” he added.
The £840 charge is a flat obligatory rate on all students, which does not entitle them to any food. Any meals purchased are paid for on top of this initial rate.
The student leading the campaign further claimed that this is not due to the college being in financial difficulties. They said: “College has been running a healthy surplus for several years – this year it nearly reached a million pound unrestricted surplus! Last year it was over £800k surplus, the year before that similar. Exeter is not a poor College, we’re just shockingly expensive.”
Tom Rutland, OUSU President, used Exeter as an example of unreasonable living costs when he wrote to the Vice Chancellor about his comments regarding £18k tuition fees.
Frances Cairncross, the college’s Rector, said: “The College has offered to discuss the costs of Hall with students, but these discussions have not yet taken place.”