Deputy editor Kirstie Sutherland reports on a magnitude 4.4 earthquake which has affected parts of the West Midlands, including UoB's main campus.Written by Kirstie Sutherland on 17th February 2018
Campus Food Prices Hiked
An unannounced rise in prices for food outlets on the Edgbaston campus and the Vale over Christmas has particularly affected students on Meal Plan
The University of Birmingham is currently facing controversy after several campus food outlets increased prices over the Christmas break without prior warning. The most dramatic illustration of the inflation was an increase to the price of a pizza by ten percent in the the Vale outlet, the Melt. The rise affects all students, but most harmed are those on the Meal Plan accommodation scheme who have no choice but to use university-provided food outlets. It is compulsory for students located in Elgar Court, Aitken or Shackleton to use the restaurants located on the university estate as part of their accommodation costs, paying an extra £50 a week for the ‘privilege’.
“'I am having to subsidise all breakfasts and all my weekend food… With the rise in prices I am now having to use even more of my own money'
Despite the price rises, there has been no equivalent increase in the allowance provided to Meal Plan students for food each week. Those on the scheme are still expected to continue to purchase the now more expensive daily meals from university restaurants. The reality of Meal Plan accommodation is a marked contrast to the optimistic message provided by university advertising. The optimistic quote displayed on university advertising material appears to fail to reflect the stressful situation that students can find themselves in. '... I use it [Meal Plan] on campus either in the Library Cafe, Go Central or Starbucks, and get a sandwich or jacket potato. For dinner I get a meal and a drink from infusion - sometimes I get a dessert too'. In reality, many students cannot afford to make purchases like this. A Meal Plan resident of Elgar Court said, 'I struggle to eat lunch and dinner on campus given the average meal is now about five pounds'.
Material distributed by UoB describes 'a day in the life of a Meal Plan student' as consisting of a 'bowl of cereal', 'butternut squash and roast carrot soup' and a 'homemade chicken and Wiltshire ham pie'. However, the leaflet admits in the small print that it this 'is just an example and in general Meal Plan covers two meals a day with students self-catering for breakfast'. Even limiting the use of the scheme to twice a day will fail to cover a normal diet. One student has described their situation as 'outrageous'; 'I am having to subsidise all breakfasts and all my weekend food… With the rise in prices I am now having to use even more of my own money'.
As open days commence, incorrect pricing displayed on the accommodation website is misleading potential applicants to the University of Birmingham. The listing of an evening meal available from the Hub continues to state the original price prior to the Christmas increase of two percent.
“'We have seen cost prices increase from our suppliers in some cases in excess of these levels, and reluctantly took the decision that we had to pass on some of these increased costs to our customers'
Speaking to Redbrick, a spokesperson from the university stated: ‘We normally review prices on an annual basis and implement any appropriate increase on 1 August each year. We did not increase prices on 1 August 2017, despite food cost price inflation running at 2.1% at that time. Since then, however food cost price inflation has increased yet further, hitting 4.1% in October 2017. We have seen cost prices increase from our suppliers in some cases in excess of these levels, and reluctantly took the decision that we had to pass on some of these increased costs to our customers.
‘The UK is seeing higher food cost inflation than any other EU country and this reflects the evaluation in Sterling against both the Euro and the Dollar that has taken place since the Brexit vote’.
This issue has now been acknowledged by the Guild of Students. Kris Ali, Housing and Communities Officer, confirmed that inquires were being made into the situation. Following a student complaint, Kris has now emailed the Director of Catering 'to confirm whether [price increases] are the case, the reasons why, and what considerations were taken'. Kris has also asked other students who have experienced negative experiences with Meal Plan accommodation to bring their case to his attention, stating that 'there should be something done for Meal Plan students'. There is now an open possibility for changes to the Meal Plan scheme so that it can better accommodate the students it caters for.