Guests at last year's Trinity May Ball spent £380 for a standard two-person ticketJohannes Hjorth

The two most expensive May Balls, at Trinity and St John’s, have upped their prices to £410 for a two-person ticket, the first time standard tickets for any college ball have broken the £200-per-person mark.

Trinity’s increase of £30 on last year comes despite the fact that set-up and clean-up staff are classed as ‘volunteers’, and are only remunerated with the option to purchase a ticket for the following year’s Ball.

Students from other colleges are not normally eligible to purchase tickets directly for the Ball, and usually need to buy them second-hand from Trinity students if they seek to attend. In order to increase their chances of securing a ticket, students are sometimes compelled to ‘volunteer’ up to ten hours of their time to set up before the Ball or clear up afterwards.

The students’ position as ‘volunteer’ has raised legal questions in the past, as any remuneration suggests that employees are by definition not volunteers, and are therefore entitled to the minimum wage. Workers at the Ball do not receive any financial remuneration.

Government regulation states that individuals “might be classed as an employee or worker rather than a volunteer” if they receive any “payment, reward or benefit in kind”. The Trinity May Ball committee advertises these roles on a webpage entitled “Worker Application”.

The minimum wage is currently set at £5.60 per hour for 18-20 year-olds and £7.05 for 21-24 year-olds.

In contrast with Trinity, the similarly high-profile St John’s College May Ball offers students who set up or clear away the right to buy tickets in either 2018 or 2019, as well as £7.50 per hour – above the minimum wage.

A Varsity investigation last year revealed that both Trinity and Jesus May Balls were advertising below minimum wage to workers at the events.

The price hike this year for Trinity tickets, which have risen by £70 per pair since 2014, comes following the recent release of college financial statements which show that Trinity’s assets soared by £158.6 million in the last academic year, more than the four poorest colleges’ assets combined.

Analysis by Varsity last week highlighted the huge disparity between colleges in Cambridge. Trinity College’s assets are 42 times the value of the poorest college, Clare Hall.

Meanwhile, tickets for Clare Hall’s most recent May Ball, in 2016, were £75 per person, just over a third of the price of this year’s Trinity May Ball.


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For £190 per person, Trinity’s guests last year were welcomed with champagne and oysters, and had the opportunity to dance along to electropop headline musician Charlie XCX.

Unusually for college May Balls, Trinity’s does not have a theme, but the annual event is named The First and Third Trinity Boat Club May Ball after the College’s boat club. The ball is also one of the few for which guests can only purchase tickets in sets of two.

In a statement, the presidents of the Trinity May Ball committee said: “The First and Third Trinity May Ball offers different options for students wanting to work or volunteer at the event, according to their preference.

“Students who choose to work on the night of the May Ball are paid (the National Minimum Wage) and the other roles, during set up and clear up, are volunteer roles. Those volunteering for set up and clear up roles are offered the opportunity to buy a ticket for this year’s May Ball and next year’s May Ball respectively.

“The volunteer agreement sets out the volunteer’s obligations, should she/he wish to take up this opportunity, including best practice for volunteers, training, and health and safety. Volunteers are not obliged to attend and can withdraw at any time, without penalty.”

Correction, 00:46 11/2/18: This article was updated to include the fact that St John’s College May Ball 2018 is also charging £410 per two-person ticket, not just Trinity College.

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