Members-only staffroom splits opinion

But could arguments over washing-up, empty honesty boxes and milk be a thing of the past at De Montfort?

April 28, 2016
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Members only: ‘having to pay to sit in the staffroom while at work is unusual’

Not all academic bust-ups are caused by disagreements over the more high-minded, intellectual matters of university life.

Clashes over politics, curriculum change or required reading lists may irk some scholars, but it is the fallouts over dirty teacups left in the staffroom or a failure to buy milk that often prove far more destructive to departmental unity.

However, De Montfort University may have resolved such intractable issues by charging staff to use its new staff common room.

In return for an annual membership of between £10 and £40 a year, depending on pay grade, staff will receive free tea and coffee for the room’s first year.

Staff will also be able to buy breakfast and lunch from the catered facility, which became a members-only room on 20 April.

The Leicester-based university believes that the staff common room in its new Vijay Patel Building, home to the Faculty of Art, Design and Humanities, has been a hit with academics during the two weeks it was open on a free-to-use basis.

But some staff have voiced dismay that the university’s first new common room in 11 years has been provided on a subscription basis only.

“Having to pay to sit down in the staffroom while at work is pretty unusual – I haven’t heard of any other institution that charges in this way,” one academic told Times Higher Education.

De Montfort said that the idea of charging for the membership of a common room was not unheard of, with several UK universities already having this subscription model.

“The staff common room committee looked at various models at UK universities and found many examples where there was a charge for membership of their common rooms, so it is certainly not unusual,” a university spokeswoman said.

The “nominal annual fee based upon salary” was cheaper than the charges found at most institutions the university assessed, she added.

“The tiered membership was introduced because staff wanted it to be truly inclusive, and charging a flat rate would mean that the membership fee was a much larger percentage of some staff salaries than others,” she said, adding that all membership fees will go into a central fund administered by the committee for future maintenance costs.

“This is the first staff common room we have had at De Montfort for 11 years, and it’s something that staff have long asked for,” she added.

The staff common room has opened in the same week as the university’s Food Village, a new dining area for staff and students, which is part of a £136 million campus revamp, the university spokeswoman said.

“Our staff have a space that they can use to work, take visitors and enjoy – the feedback from its first two weeks has been incredibly positive,” she added.

jack.grove@tesglobal.com

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Print headline: Common room, uncommon fee

Reader's comments (2)

UCL's Housman room has always had a modest annual fee. That does have the advantage that it's run by staff, not by the university management. It's the academic heart of UCL. A recent attempt to remove it by the Estates Manager was probably made easier to foil by the fact that it isn't run by the management.
When I arrived at UWE Bristol, the Applied Sciences department had no staff room, no tea and coffee; just the cafes on campus. I lobbied for one and now we have the envy of the faculty (and maybe the rest of the uni), and it's simple. Any staff in the faculty can use the space (lunch, research group meetings etc) but pay just £5 a month and you get unlimited tea, coffee, hot chocolate etc. Members of the coffee club keep it tidy, get milk when we've run out, and make pots of coffee for others because they care, because it's a club WE own; not the university. My faculty has even recently offered to invest in improving the space itself because of the positive impact they've seen the room and the coffee club have on staff.

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