Students are being charged more for their lunch at Glasgow University catering facilities than for equivalent products at premium food retailer Marks & Spencer, a Guardian price comparison has revealed.
Prices for many key takeaway lunch items, such as sandwiches, bottled drinks, and baked goods were found to be significantly higher at Glasgow University’s nine hospitality outlets, even taking into account the student discount on offer.
Basics, such as bottled mineral water, are over 50% cheaper at Marks & Spencer, while the core range of sandwiches are 25% less expensive in the high street store.
Buying a muffin at the Fraser Building, also referred to as the Hub by many students, will set students back 80p more, while a bottle of orange juice costs 50p less from the Marks & Spencer Food on Byres Road. Of the takeaway lunch products compared, only fresh and prepared fruit were cheaper at student catering outlets.
When asked for their reaction to the results of the price comparison, many students expressed surprise that the University’s catering services charged, in some cases significantly, more than the up-market store.
One student surveyed said: “I would walk down to Byres Road now that I know that. You’d think it would be cheaper here because it’s aimed specifically at students.”
A second student added: “That’s quite a shock: it should be at least on a par with M&S, price-wise.”
Many of those questioned also considered the student discount offered by Glasgow University’s hospitality too low. Despite the higher prices, 100% of students thought that the quality of the food offered by GU hospitality services was only equal or inferior to that of M&S, while 64% thought that the University failed to offer good value for money.
Vegetarians and vegans found the range of products on offer at University outlets “limited” and “unimaginative”.
Other students had already noted the comparatively high prices at GU catering outlets, and preferred to purchase food elsewhere, either from Byres Road or at the QM or GUU.
One student explained: “I would never choose to come to the Hub to eat if it weren’t for the convenience of the location. I feel like they take advantage of that — they can charge what they want because it’s so convenient for students.”
Students did, however, appreciate the facilities provided within the Fraser Building, recognising that the seating area provided a pleasant atmosphere in which to eat and socialise.
A University spokesman explained that hospitality services are not subsidised and all costs have to be covered by the income generated.
He said: “Pricing is dictated largely by the cost of supplies and staff costs. Prices are also benchmarked against other universities and checked against High Street prices. The service is essentially not-for-profit and any money made over and above costs is reinvested in the service.”
He added: “Hospitality Services endeavours to keep prices within its catering facilities as low as possible, offering value meal deals and early-bird specials. The service is always open to suggestions as to how it can be improved.”
The spokesperson also pointed out that whereas supermarkets are able to sell certain key products as a loss, Glasgow University hospitality could not.
A spokesperson for Marks & Spencer said that the company was pleased to have come out favourably in a price comparison, and explained that it had been working hard to keep prices low due to the effects of the economy on shoppers’ budgets.
“Our competitive prices reassure our customers that they can economise at M&S, without compromising on quality.”