Oxford students hit out at £15,000 snowdrop field

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The Independent Online

While it might not seem like the most obvious of fundraising projects in a recession, one Oxford University college is pinning its hopes for the future on a field of snowdrops. A bizarre row has erupted at St Edmund Hall over the college's decision to spend £15,000 of alumni donations on the winter-flowering plants.

At a time when many of Oxford's college bursars are predicting that government funding cuts will last a decade, St Edmund Hall is planning to buy up to 20,000 snowdrops.

College Principal Keith Gull instructed students to ask the college's alumni for donations to the "snowdrop project" as part of a telephone fundraising campaign. The college, which dates back to the 1200s, is the alma mater of comedian Al Murray and Financial Times editor Lionel Barber. Gull says the spending is necessary to encourage more tourists to visit the college, which is known as Teddy Hall.

Students criticised the decision to buy the flowers. Graduate student Ian Lyons, who has been at the college for seven years, said the college was well-known for its sporting prowess. "The college's reputation and legacy should be built on what it is already proud of and good at, not by constructing a new focus, particularly one that is unpopular with so many," he said.

At a heated meeting between students and college officials last week, students questioned the decision to spend money on snowdrops when they are facing spending cuts. The Higher Education Funding Council for England recently announced plans to cut university budgets across the country by more than £500m next year. Oxford's finance director Giles Kerr is already budgeting for three further years of cuts after £6m was slashed from its teaching grant this year.

Law student Daniel Lowe, who has taken part in the college's telethon campaign before, said that few alumni would want to attend a fundraising garden party in the winter. "Having events based around a carpet of snowdrops seems nonsensical to me as these will be in the garden during January and February," he said.

Gull said that buying the plants would increase donations from alumni in the long term. "In three years' time ... there will be a fantastic show of snowdrops. We will then open the hall to visitors and we'll open it to Aularians [Teddy Hall alumni] with events to raise yet more money," he said.