Gonville and Caius College hall

Students at Gonville and Caius College will be voting this week on key measures that could dramatically overhaul the format of hall dining.

Caius currently has a system whereby students are required to eat in hall at least 43 nights per term at £6.40 each. There is no fixed charge and students are required to buy tickets in order to dine. This has resulted in many wasting money, as students choose not to eat at hall and do not use all of their dinner tickets.

A survey carried out by Caius JCR in Michaelmas Term 2009 indicated that only 31 percent of students used all their tickets. In Lent Term last year this number was as low as 23 percent, whilst one percent of students used none at all.

The college now plans to establish a booking system next year, which will require students to reserve a place at a particular hall in advance of the night in order to eat.

The news has received a lukewarm reception from the Gonville and Caius Students’ Union, who believe that the proposals will only add to the the inflexibility caused by the current system. Pranav Khamar, GCSU food and bar officer and chair of the GCSU Hall Working Group, told Varsity that the proposed system “will make things even worse”.

They have put forward an alternative proposal to introduce a kitchen fixed charge, reduce ticket prices proportionately and cut the minimum dining requirement to a compulsory 30 nights per term. Students would pay £3 per meal, with the choice to take as many additional meals as they choose. This would run in addition to the college’s booking system, allowing further cost reductions once savings become evident.

Those students who currently eat 30 or fewer dinners per term could save up to £40 if the changes are brought in.

“Separating costs into KFC and meal tickets will make it much easier to reduce the number of dinner tickets we have to buy, as there’s no worry about having to cover overheads of running the college kitchens,” Mr Khamar told Varsity.

“We believe the proposed changes will give Caius students a lot more choice. We believe no one will be made worse-off by our system and our survey shows most students will also save a fair bit of money each term.”

College authorities have indicated that while they believe the GCSU’s ideas to be feasible, they will not implement them until they are convinced they have the student body’s support.

“The bursars and tutors have been receptive to our ideas so far,” added Mr Khamar. “We’re aiming for a record turnout in this poll. If we get this, and students strongly support our ideas, I’m confident that we can agree with college to implement our proposals very soon.”

The issue brings to light a controversial debate regarding the advantages and disadvantages of having a kitchen fixed charge and compulsory eating in hall.

“It’s a massive improvement in students’ degree of choice,” stated Mr Khamar. “Instead of having to buy meals to eat in hall most nights every term, students will only pay for the meals they do choose to eat.”

Others are more skeptical. “We’re still being made to eat in hall for a substantial number of days,” said one undergraduate. “I’d rather eat elsewhere and the college’s proposals would allow me to do that without wasting money.”

It is general practice at Cambridge colleges to have a fixed charge of around £146 that students are required to pay every term, with some stipulating a certain number of nights that students must dine in for. Gonville and Caius has long been the exception.

James Polyblank, the JCR president, said: “Caius students have spent years, if not decades campaigning for cheaper and fewer dinner tickets. It’s beginning to look like we’ve finally cracked it!”

Students at Caius will be voting from Tuesday to Friday, with the possibility of an extension.