It’s generally uncommon for students to live outside of college, which enables them to avoid the stresses of managing accommodationLouis Ashworth with permission for Varsity

As Molly Mae once famously said, we all have the same 24 hours in a day. But does the Cambridge system which enables us to escape our responsibilities like cleaning up after ourselves, cooking our own food, or organising accommodation mean that we behave like children too?

To start, it’s generally uncommon for students to live outside of college, helping to avoid the stresses of managing accommodation. Rent fees are flat, so energy, heating, and water bills can be bypassed, and the fact we pay rent per term, rather than for the whole year, means students don’t have to worry about regular bills. Even living in student houses out of college is monitored by porters, fixing any issues without fuss.

“If something went wrong in college I’d just go and speak to a porter and it would get sorted”

All of this is totally different to student life beyond first year at other universities, even Oxford. While they share our collegiate system, many Oxford colleges have second years live out in private accommodation and return again in their third year. Sophie Rowdene, a second year at Oxford, said that living out makes people more “grounded” as students have to deal with their own problems, “whereas if something went wrong in college I’d just go and speak to a porter and it would get sorted.” She also described how living out of college means you get the “same experience” as other non-Oxbridge universities. This is notably different to the average Cambridge second year experience, where students might live in college houses, but stay close to the resources and support of their college staff and porters, with few turning to private accommodation.

One Cambridge alumni (who asked to remain anonymous) described how during her first and last years, she had her “room cleaned every day and only had to think about work, sport, and socials (not necessarily in that order).” This couldn’t be more different than her second year, when thanks to the ballot she ended up having to find private accommodation. Although she said it was far more expensive and complicated than college accommodation, she was “definitely better prepared for the real world after [she] graduated” than her peers who never lived out.

Objectively, the Cambridge cleaning system is strange. It is expected at many colleges that someone will regularly clean your room, bathroom, and kitchen, and is even treated as a minor inconvenience by some students. Almost every student can tell a story about cleaners coming into their rooms at unfortunate times, but how often do we appreciate the fact someone cleaning up after us saves us massive amounts of time and money? Paying for these services out of pocket would be nowhere near the price we pay in accommodation fees, which are significantly subsidised, especially at richer colleges.

“Living at some colleges is like being ‘waited on hand and foot’”

Food is another key part of this, with many students eating primarily in their college dining halls. Not knowing the cost of an average weekly food shop that doesn’t consist of vodka, crumpets, and the odd apple detaches Cambridge students from society, and from how cooking works. Lydia Baldwin, a first year at Murray Edwards, described living at some colleges as being “waited on hand and foot,” saying it wasn’t a “realistic” way to live in later life for most people. It’s easy to talk about healthy eating being easy when you haven’t had to think about it alongside work, going out, and hobbies.

There are lots of reasons why colleges provide these resources. It’s a part of Cambridge tradition of course, but there is a valid argument why we should keep catered halls and room cleaning. The workload means many just don’t have the time to shop for food, clean, cook, house hunt, and more. Anna Herbert, another first year at Cambridge, described the system as not “entirely negative,” giving much-needed support for younger students while older ones can choose to live in off-site housing.


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This experience differs massively from college to college, with richer colleges giving students greater ability to miss regular chores and responsibilities. At hill colleges like Murray Edwards, food in the dome is so expensive that eating there on a regular basis is unfeasible for most students, and the college provides full kitchens. Students generally don’t eat in college that often, using their kitchens like most students at other universities do. Whereas at Emmanuel, kitchen resources are far more limited and students even have their laundry done for them, something that sounds more scary than luxurious.

So why do we care? It’s part of the Oxbridge experience to have cleaners and eat in halls – many would say it’s our ‘right’ based on our workload. But expecting the world to cater to us (literally) may make Cambridge students more entitled and disconnected. For the most privileged students who have gone to boarding school, it’s feasible that they could last until their early twenties without having cooked a meal or cleaned their own bathroom. These are the people debating in the Union about the state of the nation, running our political societies, and eventually getting jobs that require them to understand how the world works.