Oxford University students at Magdalen College ‘strike’ in dining levy row

Reproduced from the Daily Telegraph, 27th October 2012. See the article in print.

They have set up their own soup kitchens, organised large-scale home cooking sessions and accepted invitations from friends to dine at other colleges.

Students labelled the charges, which will apply to new arrivals at Magdalen College from next year, as “regressive”.

It is claimed that they could cause hardship among poorer students who already face rising living costs and tuition fees.

Officials at the historic college, whose former students include George Osborne, the Chancellor, insist that the price rise is necessary to reduce an annual catering deficit of almost £600,000.

It is thought that the boycott is costing the college up to £5,000 a week.

Miss Eccles serves soup to Olly Pearse (Tom Edkins)

At present, students can buy a range of meals for £4 in the halls, which have their own dedicated staff. Main courses include shepherd’s pie, chicken kiev, pasta, curries, chilli and fish and chips.

hey can also have a side dish of salad as well as a pudding and soft drink.

Under the plans, to be introduced from next year, new students face a compulsory levy of £150 a year to use the canteen, plus £150 per term to load up a card to pay for their meals, with any unspent credit not refunded.

Students who use the dining hall infrequently would be spared the annual £150 levy, but would have to pay an £80 non-redeemable fee per term for meals.

Meanwhile, “living out” students would pay a separate, annual fee of £90.

The college hopes that “fixed catering charges” will raise an extra £110,000 a year to cover overhead costs and maintenance of kitchens. It had initially proposed even higher charges but reduced them after protests.

Anger among the college’s 540 undergraduates culminated in the Junior Common Room voting to boycott the halls.

The two-week “strike”, supported by almost the entire student body, is due to last at least another week and has attracted support from students at other colleges.

Meg Trainor, Magdalen’s JCR president, said: “We believe the charge to be unnecessary, especially harmful to less well-off students and damaging to Magdalen’s access programme.”

Negotiations are ongoing with the governing body, which comprises the college’s fellows. According to the Oxford University Student Union, the new charge would make Magdalen the most expensive Oxford college to attend.

Founded in 1458, it is considered one of the university’s leading institutions, with alumni also including Cardinal Wolsey, C.S Lewis and Oscar Wilde.

Founder’s Tower and Cloister at Magdalen College (Alamy)

Mark Blandford-Baker, the college’s home bursar, defended the levy.

“Several other colleges in Oxford and Cambridge already have similar charges, so Magdalen isn’t exceptional in this respect,” he said.

“We remain fully committed to attracting and supporting the best students regardless of background. This is why we have appointed an outreach officer to encourage applications from under-represented groups.”