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A forum entitled ‘How much did you spend during Freshers’ Week?’ on the student discussion website The Student Room makes for interesting reading. Responses put forward by members range from a substantial £200 to a mind-boggling £600, with one student even claiming an expenditure of £1,100 in the first month of university.
With this in mind, it may seem that Freshers’ Week is largely an exercise in corporate exploitation. Nowhere is this more apparent than Freshers’ Fair, where the presence of big business is markedly rising.
In truth, the infiltration of market forces aside, Freshers’ Fayre is hardly a pleasant experience: unbearably loud music, hordes of sweaty and ailing teenagers and enough leaflets to necessitate the clearing of a small rainforest.
The significant amount of floor space given to corporate stalls (90 out of approximately 400 places) only serves to compound the widespread yet tacit resentment of Freshers’ Fair. The overcrowding in the tent caused by free pizza, discounted alcoholic drinks and coercive flyering creates a stressful experience for students, whilst the private companies are simultaneously denying university clubs and societies prime positions.
The Freshers’ Media Guide for 2012 quotes a price of £1595 for a premium stall for the full three days of Freshers’ Fayre, whilst a standard stall costs £525 per day or £1295 for the full three days.
Luke Mitchell, Democracy and Communications Officer for the Students’ Union, emphasised the importance of advertising revenue in providing funding for Freshers’ Fair. He said:
“The commercial stuff essentially pays for the event. We don’t rake in money from it.”
Mitchell was adamant that if Freshers’ Fair had been funded solely by the Union, money would have been diverted away from other more important outgoings. Moreover, he highlighted the Union’s attempt to accommodate “student-friendly” companies such as takeaway outlets and taxi companies. Despite this noble effort, the Union could have explored a less invasive approach.
The first thing which confronted students at this year’s Freshers Fair was a LIDL stall. Next to this were Vodka Revolutions and Let’s Go to Beeston. The central aisle of the tent was blocked by an ever-growing crowd at the Domino’s pizza stall. Beyond this was D&G taxis.
The Union could have considered moving commercial stalls to the rear or to the edges of the tent, which would have prevented crowd congestion in the main aisles. Alternatively, the stalls could have been placed outside of the main tent, still accessible to students but less obstructive to those seeking to join clubs and societies. This would also have freed up space for clubs and societies, for whom Freshers’ Fair is a crucial event.
An alternative source of funding could be clubs and societies themselves. With over 300 clubs, a small contribution from each would surely cover the cost of Freshers’ Fayre. This would lessen the need to have commercial stalls or the Union could afford to locate them in less lucrative positions.
The Students’ Union need to be asking students whether they think the private companies’ freebies and discounts, most of which can be found online anyway, are worth the congestion and ensuing
stress they cause. If students are not happy, there are a number of aforementioned options which could easily transform Freshers’ Fair into a more tranquil environment.
Interestingly, a whole host of other advertising opportunities are shown in the Freshers’ Media Guide. For example, companies are invited to pay £1,200 to feature in the 5,000 emails sent to Freshers in September. The Freshers’ Fair information guide and website are also available for advertising for £395 and £325 respectively. In light of these figures, Mitchell’s claim that the commercial stalls are essential to Freshers’ Fair appears unconvincing.