Where are all the balls?

UCL balls – not enough or just right?


The traditional university ball is in deep trouble; the bastion of celebration, relaxation and revelry faces declining student interest and rising costs.  As we move towards ball season, the Tab looks at some high profile casualties and asks why balls are not more successful.

Last year the University of Warwick replaced its usual Summer Ball with a new, rebranded ‘Summer Party’. Tickets were £30 per person, down from £55. This year there is uncertainty about whether the event will actually run, due to the high costs and poor reviews of last year.

The University of Cambridge, which should epitomise the champagne-driven excess of summer balls, has been similarly struck down by lack of interest. Emmanuel College was forced to cancel after selling 40 tickets, and Selwyn only sold 250 tickets out of 800, later cancelling its £50,000 event.

Declining popularity can be put down to two factors. Students are poorer and their chances of getting jobs are slimmer, whilst the private market for celebratory events is getting more and more expensive. Gone are the days when finalists from the top universities were secure in the knowledge they would walk into a good job and promising career. Graduate unemployment is rising, and students are weary of spending £60 on a ball before falling on the dole the following September.

Costs for catering firms and venues are increasing too, meaning that an evening in a relatively nice venue can cost upwards of £15,000. The Tab received a quote from a middle-ranking catering firm; apparently canapés, deserts and snacks all evening for 150 people justifies forking out a total of £7,500. That’s £50 per head before you’ve even thought about the venue, lighting and security! A top events venue in Marylebone quotes in the region of £22,000 per evening, making that bank heist you always kid about slightly more tangible.

At UCL we have a love/hate relationship with balls (behave). While scoffing at their conspicuous consumption and needless extravagance, many of us long to attend the glamorous celebrations that take place at Oxford and Cambridge, graced by the likes of ‘Bombay Bicycle Club’ and ‘Florence + The Machine’.  Being champagne socialists at heart, however, we are consistently disappointed with UCLU’s yearly offering.  In 2012, one of the main selling points of our Summer Ball was ‘multiple bars’.  In 2011, one of the main selling points was ‘multiple bars’. In fact, in 2010, the poster told us all that we should get very excited at the prospect of ‘multiple bars’.

So where else can a UCL student look for formal japery at the end of term?


Foundation Dinner

UCLU Debating Society

Tickets: Around £40. On sale after reading week.

This is Debating Soc’s traditional formal celebration. Taking place at UCL, it involves a large meal and lots of wine, followed by a debate with a recurring motion: ‘This House has lost faith in her Majesty’s Government’. Last year Lembit Opik spoke, and a Cheeky Girl accompanied him. Unmissable. We’re not sure when it will be this year, but it’s usually towards the end of term.


The EFS Boat Ball

UCL Economics and Finance Society

Tickets: Usually around £35/40. TBA

This hasn’t been officially announced yet, but it is a decent bet that EFS will once again pull out all the stops. As the largest society at UCL, it usually puts on a ball for economics students and financy-people sometime towards the end of 2nd term.


The History Society Easter Ball

UCL History Society

Tickets: £30 for History Students, £35 for non-History. 

This is the first year the History Society has put on an Easter Ball. Hosted at Café de Paris in Piccadilly Circus, you get a champagne reception, canapés and 3 free drinks included in your ticket price. Tickets are on sale now.


So what is it that we’re looking for? Would we be more willing to pay £100 for a white-tie evening with all the works? Or are we far better satisfied by a night in the Jeremy Bentham Room? It seems as though at UCL, as long as it’s decently priced, it doesn’t matter where it is, how formal/informal it is or whether there are canapés, buffets or three course meals. As long as it’s well-attended and well-stocked in the alcohol department, there’s no better way to end the term with some of the best people in your life.