After the submission of Freedom of Information requests on 22 November 2012, The Cambridge Student exposed the shocking depth of the Cambridge College fining system. Whilst the University raised a total of £38,209 through fining students in the previous academic year, almost a third of the money received, £12,872, came from Newnham College. The second worst college was Gonville and Cauis, but with £9,930, Caius came nowhere near Newnham’s figures . The Newnham fining system is by far the most severe, bringing most of its money in through ‘Housekeeping fines’.
The College imposes so-called ‘Housekeeping fines’ on its students, and has received £6,719 after deeming rooms to be in an unacceptable state of cleanliness. A rigorous inspection is undertaken at the end of each term, and students are ruthlessly punished for various housekeeping offences. TCS raised the ambiguous nature of ‘Housekeeping fines’ with the College, although Newnham was unavailable to clarify their definition of this.
Alice King, a first year student from Newnham, expanded on the policy: students are not simply fined for behavioural matters, but predominantly “for not leaving your room in a sufficiently tidy and clean state”.
What constitutes a ‘tidy and clean state’ is at best subjective, leaving students unsure as to whether their housekeeping endeavours will result in the imposition of a fine or not. King went on to tell TCS that she was once fined “£5 for having generally dusty surfaces… £5 for having an unclean sink and mirror, £5 for not vacuum cleaning the floor and £5 for leaving dirty linen on the bed.”
This not only seems excessive, but also petty and half-hearted, with the fine for each ‘form’ of untidiness or unclean surface costing the unsuspecting student £5. TCS cannot help but question a system in which a student who leaves only one dirty streak on the mirror is fined £5, whilst another who many not have cleaned the sink for an entire term receives the same fine.
Another student, who asked to remain anonymous, claimed to have been fined £16.50 for leaving bedding unwashed and failing to return her duvet on time.
“Most people find the fines unreasonable,” King continued, “primarily because we don’t have bedders, unlike the majority of other colleges.” She complained that the students are not even provided with cleaning equipment other than a vacuum cleaner. The housekeeping fine system is a ‘Catch 22′, with students either having to fork out large sums in fines, or make substantial investments in cleaning products.
Becky Wetten, President of Newnham JCR, justified the College’s policy for fining students for unsanitary housekeeping practice. She asserted that: “it’s been made very transparent what we need to do and what fines we receive if we fail to do so.” King, however, notes that she cannot remember receiving a list of fines. Although they are vaguely entitled “housekeeping” on the termly college bill, the breakdown is later posted into the offending student’s pigeonhole.
Yet it is easily forgotten that these fines come on top of the fee that the College charges for accommodation each term. With Newnham’s do-it-yourself-style Bed and Breakfast accommodation working out at £126.41 per week, living in College is not a cheap option.
As most other colleges have a bedder system, with rooms and communal facilities being cleaned at least once a week, the Newnham charges seem almost extortionate, and are above the average cost for College accommodation in Cambridge – £100 per week. One student complained that there is an additional charge of £197.77 for a ‘tiny’ kitchen which is shared with ten other students. For the £5,933.10 which the College receives per year for this one kitchen, which only boasts two hob rings, they could upgrade facilities, or employ a cleaner on the living wage, for 741 hours, the equivalent of 105 days a year.
Wetten added that, following student complaints about the fines, “the JCR, Domestic Bursar & Housekeeping staff worked together to improve the situation.” However, students like King still feel that it is unfair of the college to charge for “things that should really be standard” in the life of a university student.
Another student went further, claiming that the college needs to change a system which is simply not up to scratch: “It is a joke. I think it’s ridiculous”.
Jenny Buckley & Hazel Shearing – News Editor & Deputy News Editor