Don’t Whine about the Wine

Cambridge colleges spent £3m on wine last year, and you should shut up about it

access Cambridge cambridge colleges faculty fellows fine wine investment whine widening access Wine

Today we released the news that Cambridge colleges spend around £3 million on wine per year. The figures – particularly when compared to college spending on access – conjure up images of Dickensian disparity: bourgeois academics in gowns guzzling down litres of 2004 Lucien Le Moine, whilst intelligent youths in underprivileged, provincial towns are left without opportunity, unaware that they can even apply to Cambridge.

A fine vintage

Would you like some cheese with that whine?

We shouldn’t be so easily manipulated by such lazy and irrelevant comparisons. The reality is that much of this wine is ‘for college entertainments, annual gatherings, conferences and for resale‘, according to the Trinity College Bursar.  Crucially the wine that is re-sold is an investment, equivalent to an investment in something that sounds more legitimate, like land or stocks and shares. If we think of much of this wine as ‘investment’, the story loses much of its sting. ‘Cambridge Colleges spend a combined £3 million on a solid investment, some of which is used for entertaining fellows, as well as commercial events’ is not as attention grabbing, but, logically this story is the same.

Fine wine is a great investment. It’s not as good as gold, but investing in wine is far better than putting it into the unreliable FTSE. My knowledge of economics is basic, but I do know that most money invested in the city is never actually tangible; never really more than an abstract figure on a computer screen dependent entirely on man-made constructions that could, if Russell Brand gets his way, one-day just collapse into nothing. In the unlikely event that our entire economic system imploded in some fucked up apocalyptic-octuple-dip-hyper-recession, at least our vintage wine could get us pissed in style.

Trust in alcohol

Trust in alcohol

Academics in Cambridge hardly lead a life of excess. They aren’t bankers or benefit-cheating MPs. There is no Wolf of Wolfson College snorting cocaine off high-grade hookers and throwing midgets at dart-boards. Academics in Cambridge work hard, juggling supervisions with over-anxious Natscis whilst being subject to demanding research requirements. We should give them credit and not deny them the perks of a few nice booze-filled dinners. They are undoubtedly some of the most intelligent people in the country, often sacrificing potentially gargantuan commercial salaries for the noble pursuit of higher truth, education and the understanding of our strange world. We shouldn’t resent them these small perks, especially as we get ready to spaff another £20 of our student loan on a round of jagerbombs at Cindies tonight.

Hardly the scene in your college SCR

Hardly the scene in your college SCR

However, the comparison does highlight a valid point: we aren’t spending enough on access. We must be careful not to trivialise the work that is being done already in this area; there are volunteers from every college arranging shadowing schemes, school visits and open-days every term. This is good work, and it’s showing positive results. But we should absolutely support increased investment in access. The divide between state and private school students getting into Cambridge is shrinking, but not fast enough. My point is that money for access should not be docked from the fellow’s wine tab. We could get the money for access from innumerable other sources, many of which are less deserving than our hard-working, talented and frankly underpaid fellows.

For a start, we could cut each college boat club’s budget in half.