Displaced from his college brunch for a fundraising event, Matthew Taylor is forced to wonder whether the notion of a parents lunch really aligns with Cambridge's values in 2024... Emily Lawson-Todd for Varsity

It is a bad start to the weekend … brunch has been cancelled. My friends and I manage to avert the crisis by sneaking into Queens’ despite their newly hostile attitude towards students from other colleges using their hall. “In my day”, I will be heard saying to my college grandkids come October, “Queens’ used to welcome us with open arms and the whole thing would only cost £3”. They will walk off as I am halfway through my sentence, I imagine, and find another extended college family member to talk to.

I digress, but the point is this: regardless of how much you love brunch (you really do), it’s an inconvenience when it’s cancelled. Who was college catering for on this sad sad day instead of several hundred ravenous students? Fifty ravenous student’s parents - obviously.

The parent’s lunch happens once a year. Our parents or guardians receive a letter in the post about a month before, letting them know they can book for the bargain price of £55 a head. As such it would cost £165 for most families booking for two adults and one student (who said I wasn’t putting my STEM degree to good use?). Make no mistake, this is first and foremost a fundraising opportunity for the college; cancelling brunch, the first of term no less, is the least of their worries. Something feels off, I think, as I chew my admittedly delightful Queens’ hash brown … it’s all a little … private school?

“It seems to me that exclusivity is built into the format of the event”

This isn’t a criticism of the private school system, I’ll leave that for another day, but rather a critique of the success of this kind of culture in pervading, almost uniquely it would seem, this University. The generic operations of school - those shared between state comp, grammar, and private - don’t succeed in this way. There is no parents’ evening, nor is there a termly report sent straight to the adults who look after us before we get to see it (thank God). From a financial standpoint, the University has committed itself via generous bursaries to, generally quite successfully I might add, undoing the disparities in socioeconomic background that would otherwise have the potential to affect academic attainment. So why are they inviting my parents to lunch?

I get it, it’s Cambridge. Parents who send their children to Eton or the local state comp tend to be equally captivated by its allure and the opportunity to attend a formal is thus for many an exciting one. Rationalising parent’s lunches as a way to meet this excitement makes sense on paper, but a guest formal ticket costs £20. Encourage students to bring their parents to these, if they really want, but don’t send a letter to everyone’s parents with the sole purpose of filling a room with adults who can justify spending £165 on a meal - it’s exclusionary and serves to demarcate those with the means to do so from those without.

“Filling a room with adults who can justify spending £165 on a meal is exclusionary”

The continuation of private school rituals does nothing to alleviate the impression of elitism that the University so frequently comes up against. To some it might seem reasonable to suggest lowering the cost of entry, and if the college is really in dire straits (which I find incredibly difficult to believe) also add with no expectation that a donation might be made on top of this. It seems to me though, that exclusivity is built into the format of the event: the very notion of a parents lunch lends itself to a gaggle of middle class fifty-somethings that find pleasure in indulging in the 3 for £8 deli range at M&S and who are probably all mutual friends already. For parents who do not fit that image, something that should be increasingly common if our access programmes are working, a sit-down meal does not facilitate moving about the room as might be necessary should one wish to avoid conversing with consultant after consultant (doctor, or management - take your pick). At a lunch then, even if it is not so highly priced, it is not difficult to imagine the possibility of the seating plan leaving someone feeling out of place simply because their postcode doesn't start with SW, whether that is the intention of those they are sat with or not.


Mountain View

Scrapping state school targets is playing a dangerous game

If a college wants money, invite back the alumni for yet another event (though preferably not one interfering with brunch). If a college wants to engage with the parents of its students (which I maintain is slightly strange outside the context of graduation since with very few exceptions we are all adults) then hosting an afternoon tea might be an idea, but don’t put a price on entry. I must concede that if my parents wanted to go to the parents’ lunch I would let them and as such I certainly won’t blame those who do go for doing so - while it is there, and if you can afford it, you may as well do so. My gripe is with its occurrence in the first place, it seems to me such events are nothing more than a hangover from when everyone came to Cambridge from the same five schools and everyone’s parents already knew each other. That is rightly no longer the case, so why can’t we move with the times?