The University of Exeter is a business. This is one of the many things I have learned whilst attending this historic institution. This revelation was fully cemented with the introduction of a Pret à Manger in the space left over when a third of the Market Place was closed. Many would be thrilled at the idea of (yet another) big brand chain instilling itself in an unused corner of the forum. But I am here to explain why it is a godawful idea.
Firstly; price. Attending university is an expensive undertaking. In all seriousness, who thought introducing a pricey chain was a good idea? This isn’t Canary Wharf or the West End. Noone, not even an adult earning a reasonable salary every year, would eat out at a joint where a basic salad sets you back £3.99. Yet, with Exeter students, a Beets, Squash and Feta Superbowl or Wild Crayfish and Avocado Salad is not considered a luxury item.
Secondly; price. Why didn’t someone say: ‘let’s implement a cheaper alternative to help out students already weighed down by excessive fees?’ – Students who have the privilege of paying to sleep in Old Lafrowda. This is just an idea here, so forgive me if it seems unfeasible: Why couldn’t the University scout out a cheaper alternative? Perhaps a company that sources local ingredients rather than a chain with annual profits exceeding £46,000,000 which has, according to the Independent, cut their taxable profits through utilising the Channel Islands stock exchange.
This all sounds fishier than Pret’s Crayfish Mango and Cashew Super-bowl.
Thirdly; accountability. Was the student body ever consulted on this? If not, why? Who is this University for if not students? When and by whom were plans for a Pret discussed? Were other ideas mooted? How much did Pret offer the University so that they could set up shop here?
Fourthly; opportunities. This is more of an idealistic thought than one rooted in practicality, yet I feel it is a worthwhile point to end on. The university experience is supposed to be a time of opportunities for students. One in which they will hope to gain skills that are not merely academic. This space in the Forum had the potential to be one of these opportunities. Imagine if the University had announced that students could compete to run their own small business where the Pret is now situated. Teams of six would put forward proposals for their own cafés which they would run themselves. They could set their own prices, determine their own menus etc. what an opportunity this would be to learn about the running of a small business. Each year, the business would change hands and a new team of entrepreneurs could set up shop. Well-meaning friends have told me that this is an impractical solution, and perhaps it is, but when else are students going to have an opportunity to run a small business— unless their parents’ own one of course…