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Oxford Brookes University accused of 'cynical misrepresentation of the truth' over restaurant closure

27 September 2019 by
Oxford Brookes University accused of 'cynical misrepresentation of the truth' over restaurant closure

Oxford Brookes University has been accused of putting forward a "cynical misrepresentation of the truth" in its defence of closing the School of Hospitality Management's on-site restaurant.

A joint statement has been issued by Donald Sloan, who was head of the university's School of Hospitality Management between 2003 and 2017; David Levin, the former owner of the Capital hotel in Knightsbridge who funded the redevelopment of the restaurant in 1997 and is a visiting professor and honorary graduate of the university; and Angela Maher former acting head of the School of Hospitality Management.

The three said they had not intended to intervene but felt compelled to respond after reading the university's statement confirming the closure planned for May 2020.

They said: "The university's primary justification for closing the restaurant is a claim that it makes an operating loss of around £280,000 per year. This is, in fact, not the case. The university has consistently refused to assign a proportion of income from student tuition fees to cover the costs of teaching undertaken in this learning environment. If funds due to the restaurant had been paid, its financial position would be much stronger.

"The ethics of the university's approach are worth exploring. Is it appropriate that an important teaching facility should be denied a share of income from tuition fees? Is the same approach adopted for other courses that have a practical dimension, such as motorsport engineering, biological sciences and architecture, or are facilities pertaining to these courses also deemed to be loss making?

"We are aware there can be misconceptions about the role of such a facility within a university environment. In reality Brookes Restaurant performs multiple functions. It equips students with valuable operational and supervisory experience, which is important for those who aspire to management and leadership careers in hospitality. It prepares them for work placements, ensuring they are ready to make the most of their time spent in industry. In addition, and maybe less obviously, it fuels students' commitment to hospitality, enables them to explore food and drink as cultural entities and gives them valuable insights into entrepreneurship. In short, students' time spent working and learning in Brookes Restaurant is an investment in their future that cannot be replicated elsewhere.

"We are proud that the Oxford School of Hospitality Management developed a reputation as a leading educational institute in its field (ranked third in the world in 2016 at the prestigious Worldwide Hospitality Awards). That reputation is built on the success of its graduates, who are recognised for their academic ability as well as their practical know-how. They occupy senior positions in hospitality organisations, internationally, pursue exciting careers as entrepreneurs and, crucially, take pride in their alma mater. The recent outcry from alumni, on learning of plans to close Brookes Restaurant, reflects their belief that it's a vital part of the educational environment that contributed so much to their success."

Oxford Brookes confirmed its decision to close the restaurant earlier this month despite a petition calling for it to be saved attracting more than 1,300 signatures. The petition had described the restaurant as an "integral part of the curriculum", which provides "valuable practical experience to both first and final year International Hospitality Management students".

At the time it said: "Following a formal consultation process and careful consideration, the University has taken the decision to close Brookes Restaurant at the end of the current academic year.

"Brookes Restaurant has maintained an excellent reputation over a number of years, reflecting the quality of its service. However, despite a number of initiatives over the past decade, the restaurant has consistently made a significant annual operating loss. Over the last four academic years the restaurant has lost an average of £280,000 per year on direct operating activities.

"Staff affected by the decision will continue to be fully supported, including exploring opportunities for alternative employment within the university."

The university declined to make any further comment when contacted by The Caterer.

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