It's Cambridge's party and it will make you eat Pret crisps if it wants to

July 16, 2009

A garden party held to celebrate the University of Cambridge's 800th anniversary conjures up images of fine dining, silver cutlery and a glass or two of champagne.

But in times of austerity, when the finances of even the wealthiest universities are being drained by the recession, guests at this week's event will have to make do with a more prosaic offering: a sandwich and a juice from the high street chain Pret A Manger.

Staff at Cambridge, which is one of the UK's oldest universities, have been invited to mark Cambridge's landmark year at a party held at its Botanic Garden on 18 July, where they will be issued with a picnic bag containing crisps, a sandwich, cake, fruit salad and a soft drink.

If they want to toast the university with a cup of tea, they will have to buy their own, and if they want bubbly they will be permitted to bring a small amount in with them.

Disgruntled academics have complained about the catering already, predicting that a two-tier system will be in place on the day, with senior managers being offered a better spread.

"Most of my colleagues have remarked that it would be better to hold no garden party than this," one told Times Higher Education.

"I bet you there will be a special hospitality tent for the vice-chancellor Alison Richard and her entourage. Surely she won't walk around munching from a bag."

Eyebrows have also been raised at the security measures laid on for the event.

Invitations have been branded with bar codes to restrict access, and staff have been told to bring photo identification, such as a passport, to ensure they get in.

One grumbling guest likened the level of security to that at the garden parties thrown at Buckingham Palace by the Queen.

A spokesman for Cambridge said the party was a key event in the institution's 800th anniversary year, and insisted that there would be no preferential treatment for senior staff.

"The garden party is for everyone. We expect 10,000 people to attend and everyone will be treated equally, whether they are a gardener, a professor or indeed a vice-chancellor," he said.

"There are no separate catering arrangements for any group of staff or guests."

He added that the picnic would be served in a "branded cooler bag" that could be taken away as a souvenir, and that "no plastic bags are involved".

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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