Invited by the University of Birmingham Conservatives, controversial backbench MP Jacob Rees-Mogg visited campus on Friday 9th March, speaking about his views on free speech, housing, mental health, Russia and tuition fees to a packed lecture theatre of around 300 students.Written by Erin Santillo & John Wimperis on 16th March 2018
Meal Plan Weekly Balance Rises by £1
Following Redbrick coverage and lobbying by Kris Ali, the Catering Team has increased the weekly balance for food that is offered to Meal Plan after the inflation of campus food prices in January.
The Catering Team has informed students on the Meal Plan scheme that the decision was made to increase the weekly balance by £1, to £56 a week, for the remainder of the year. The increase is to be implemented free of charge and came into effect from Monday 26th.
Many students have been critical in their response to the change. ‘Water has gone up 50p, and they’ve offered us another pound a week’, one student told Redbrick. ‘I don’t know whether to laugh or cry’ stated a resident of Elgar Court. ‘They’ve literally given us an extra five prawn crackers a week’ responded another. ‘How generous’.
“'They’ve literally given us an extra five prawn crackers a week'
Nic Mander, Director of Catering at the university, offered justification for the two per cent increase by outlining how all aspects of the supply chain have raised prices. ‘The price of a product reflects all the elements that go into it’, including not only ingredients, but also the waste stream, staff, and packaging.
Mander explained to Redbrick that the catering services expect to be profitable, but that the 1.4 percent fiscal surplus generated stood in contrast to the 20 to 30 per cent enjoyed by the commercial sector. He went on to outline that the surplus is used to offset the cost of refurbishment and construction of new outlets so that university funds remain for academic purposes.
According to Mander, the aim of the catering services is to keep items labeled as a main meals, such as lasagne or chow mein, at or below the £5 price mark. However, an Elgar Court student noted that the sandwich and salad lunch items remain priced above those of commercial competitors in Harborne and Selly Oak.
Some have drawn attention to what has been described as ‘misleading’ information offered to university applicants. The material that details the Meal Plan scheme fails to state that catered accommodation is only part time. The university website claims that ‘the Meal Plan budget is to spend from Monday to Sunday’.
However, when Redbrick interviewed Mander, he claimed that the Meal Plan is designed to cover only two meals a day for five days a week. One first year student reflected that, ‘if you’re offered catered accommodation, you generally perceive it to be fully catered, not for only a few days a week’.
The material states that ‘with Meal Plan you don’t need to spend your time worrying about what to cook every night or what groceries to get in’ and that it will ‘save you the hassle of preparing and cooking meals’. Yet many catered students feel that it is a necessity to organise uncatered meals for at least two days a week. Some have explained to Redbrick that they are frequently catering for themselves over the weekends, despite living in catered accommodation; ‘I easily cook for myself for at least three times a week’ stated a first year.
“'If you’re offered catered accommodation, you generally perceive it to be fully catered'
The examples offered within the Student Accommodation booklet given to all university applicants describe ‘a typical day on Meal Plan’ as one that could include ‘a full English breakfast at InFusion’, ‘a jacket potato with cheese and beans’ and a dinner of ‘fajitas at Infusion or a takeaway pizza’. It goes on to add that Georgie, a Medicine student, will ‘grab a coffee from Starbucks’. Some students feel this is perhaps an inaccurate representation of how the money can be spent.
The comment that ‘in general Meal Plan covers two meals a day with student’s self catering for breakfast’ is only available in small print on a separate piece of sales material.
The partial catering arrangement has resulted in some students skipping meals in order to avoid using up their balance. In one case, a student has said they have ‘salads from the library cafe’ for dinner due to the lack of vegetarian options provided by outlets on the Vale.
Kris Ali, Housing and Community Officer at the Guild of Students, urged the university to offer an increase to the Meal Plan balance equivalent to food price inflation. Whilst satisfied with the timing of the response, ‘a testament to the pressure that has been put on by the student body’, Ali believes that the wider concern of ‘the quality and value for money of Meal Plan’ is to now be addressed. He explained, ‘I want to make sure students get what they deserve from choosing to be catered at the University of Birmingham’.