Academics get chilli reception at canteen

July 8, 2005

Trouble is brewing at the University of East Anglia amid claims that academics and students have been barred from their favourite canteen this summer to make way for conference delegates.

One academic reports being turned away from the Zest cafe - after queuing for Mexican bean chilli. He was told that the eatery was open only to conference delegates until the start of next term.

The university said that Zest was one of six cafes on campus and that the five others remained open as usual.

A UEA spokeswoman said that Zest had been designated for use by conference visitors and summer schools to reduce the queues that would otherwise face staff and students who remained on campus over the summer break.

The UEA Students' Union said that postgraduates were particularly concerned about the availability of "hot cheap food" on the campus in the evenings.

Jo Wright, union welfare officer, was due to meet the university's catering service this week.

"The university has been very receptive to students' concerns and I'm hopeful that we'll be able to make progress on this," she said.

But Rupert Read, senior lecturer in philosophy, said: "The sign that the servers directed my attention to said that this was being done 'for the comfort and convenience of both conference-attenders and staff/students'.

"What deceptive tosh. It is only the staff and students who are being barred. We are being discomforted for others' convenience."

Dr Read, who admitted that he could have instead gone to Vista, the staff restaurant, added: "Have we so totally forgotten the mission of a university? Evidently, universities - or at least this one - are sufficiently desperate for cash that they will literally sell out their own members to make a quick buck from cash-paying visitors."

But the UEA spokeswoman said that hundreds of school students were expected at the university's summer schools. She said that designating a cafe for guests speeded up the service "as no cash is taken".

"Three other restaurants offer hot meals; all cater for vegetarians and for other dietary requirements. Conferences and other summer activities bring additional income to the university, helping to ensure that it can direct more investment into its core academic programme," she added.

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