Schools caterer gobbles its way into universities

May 20, 2005

It has gained notoriety for feeding the nation's schoolchildren "nutrition-lite" meals such as the Turkey Twizzlers lambasted by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.

Now giant catering company Scolarest is making strides into the university sector.

Already operating in "almost 40" universities, according to its website, it has recently struck two further catering deals in the sector - at Middlesex University and, provisionally, at University College London - causing an uproar.

Middlesex has taken over all commercial activities - canteens, bars and shops - from the students' union (MUSU) and plans to hand over the running of these to Scolarest next term. The company has held the catering contract for the university's own activities for the past eight years.

Middlesex said the union's commercial activities had been operating at a loss for "some years" and had accumulated debts of more than £300,000.

A spokeswoman said: "The university cannot afford for this to continue yet, in spite of good intentions, there is no sign that MUSU can repay the debt."

A petition against the move, signed by more than 800 students, was dismissed by the university. It agreed the plans before the results of a referendum, which were 1,058 to 455 against the move, became known.

Raymond Robertson-Worth, senior bar supervisor for the MUSU at the Trent Park campus, said: "I'm pissed off. The cheeky sods [at the university] said we were in commercial conflict with its own operations, but what happened to free trade? A bit of competition doesn't hurt anyone, and the students gain."

At UCL, Scolarest confirmed it had been "informally notified" that it had won a contract to provide catering, subject to the agreement of contractual terms.

Guy Kershaw, UCL's deputy estates and facilities director, said that the deal, involving the main UCL refectory for staff and students, would provide "quality food at the right price".

But support staff union Unison said a campaign to keep catering "in-house" was sweeping the university - with more than 1,000 signing a petition in two weeks.

A Scolarest spokeswoman said its higher education operations were entirely separate from its schools' business - which has to run on a highly restricted budget.

Already registered?

Sign in now if you are already registered or a current subscriber. Or subscribe for unrestricted access to our digital editions and iPad and iPhone app.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Board Member BOURNEMOUTH UNIVERSITY (MAIN OFFICE)

Most Commented

Elderly woman looking up at sky

A recent paper claims that the quality of researchers declines with age. Five senior scientists consider the data and how they’ve contributed through the years

Otto illustration (5 May 2016)

Craig Brandist on the proletarianisation of a profession and how it leads to behaviours that could hobble higher education

Woman tearing up I can't sign

Schools and universities are increasingly looking at how improving personalities can boost social mobility. But in doing so, they may be forced to choose between teaching what is helpful, and what is true, says David Matthews

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration 19 May 2016

Tim Blackman’s vision of higher education for the 21st century is one in which students of varying abilities learn successfully together

James Minchall illustration (12 May 2016)

An online experiment proves that part of the bill for complying with the Freedom of Information Act is self-inflicted, says Louis Goddard