Students at Magdalen College are boycotting its hall in protest against plans to introduce extra annual dining charges, by opening a soup kitchen within college grounds.
The new charges, which are planned to come into effect in 2013, are an attempt to reduce the college's annual catering deficit which reaches almost £600,000. It is hoped that the new initiative will generate an extra £110,000 a year to cover hall costs.
The college intends to introduce a compulsory charge of £150 a year to students who use the canteen regularly, which will entitle them to use a card loaded with non-refundable, pre-paid credit to secure partially-subsidized meals. Students who visit hall “infrequently” will have to pay an £80 fee per term for the use of the hall, while those who live out will have to pay an annual fee of £90.
Students of the college, however, are concerned that the plans will have a negative impact on access. They speculate that the higher costs will cause hardship amongst poorer students, who are already facing rising tuition fees. As a result, the Junior Common Room is boycotting Magdalen catering – and two students, Tilda Ferree (Magdalen, 2010) and Kate Eccles (Magdalen, 2010), have set up a soup kitchen within college walls to feed the masses.
“We decided to make soup at lunch times to encourage people to get involved in the Hall boycott by giving them a cheap and easy alternative to eating in Hall,” Kate Eccles told Oxford Today. “So far it's turned out to be really effective and fun: we’ve been giving out about 35 bowls a day and everyone seems to like the soup! The response across the JCR in general has been really positive, with everyone getting involved in the strike.”
Speaking to The Telegraph, Magdalen College’s home bursar Mark Blandford-Baker explained that “[s]everal other colleges in Oxford and Cambridge already have similar charges, so Magdalen isn’t exceptional in this respect.” He added that the college remains “fully committed to attracting and supporting the best students regardless of background".
The Telegraph estimates that the boycott is costing Magdalen College up to £5,000 a week.