The Oxford University Student Union
is the official students' union
of the University of Oxford
, representing the interests of its members to the university and the outside world. It is better known in Oxford by its acronym, OUSU
(OW-zoo). It exists to represent Oxford students in University decision-making, to act as the voice of students in the national higher education policy debate, and to provide direct services to the student body. It is not to be confused with the Oxford Union
debating society, which, though similarly named, is an entirely separate student organisation, independent of the university and without any representative function.
Lewis Iwu is President of OUSU for the academic year 2008-9.
Reflecting the federated nature of the University of Oxford itself, OUSU is both an association of Oxford's more than 17,000 individual students and a federation of the Junior Common Rooms
(JCRs) and Middle Common Rooms
(MCRs) that represent all students and graduate students (respectively) at the University's 46 Colleges of the University of Oxford
and Permanent Private Halls.
Individual students can opt out of membership, though this is rarely exercised. Individual Common Rooms can also opt out of the federation, and votes of disaffiliation are perennial fixtures of some common rooms.
OUSU is financed by common room subscription fees, specific grants from the university and the activities of commercial subsidiary Oxford Student Services Limited (OSSL). Unlike other students' unions, OUSU does not receive a block grant from the university, instead receiving grants for specific projects, activities and positions.
OSSL has its own Managing Director and Board of Directors, and the corporation's profits are all remanded to OUSU. OSSL's primary activities are: Freshers' Fair, the three-day introduction in Oxford's Exam Schools to clubs and societies, held during orientation week; publishing, primarily of handbooks for and by students, but also of The Oxford Forum magazine and Oxford Student newspaper; Oxide Radio, a student radio station; and Zoo, which organises nightclub nights and other student entertainments.
OUSU is led by a 21-member Executive Committee, which includes 6 full-time salaried sabbatical officers, who generally serve in the year following completion of their Finals, and 13 part-time Executive Officers, who serve while continuing their studies. Included in these totals, there is one sabbatical and 3 part-time executive positions which must be occupied by graduates.
OUSU Council acts as the sovereign body of the Student Union, and has over 150 eligible members, specifically: every OUSU Executive Officer; 3 representatives from each affiliated JCR; 2 representatives from each affiliated MCR; and one vote representing each of the 6 OUSU Autonomous Campaigns. If a JCR or MCR has fewer than 100 members, it receives one less council vote. The Chair of Council is elected by the Council itself in each academic term.
The University of Oxford's nascent students' union emerged in the 13th century. Student leaders attempted to mediate the violent clashes between "nations" at the University. Southern English, northern English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish students would frequently battle against one another, with fatalities recorded as early as 1260.
Despite this ancient pedigree, the University of Oxford's governing council resisted formally recognising Oxford's university-wide student estate for some 750 years, although JCRs and MCRs came to be recognised in their respective colleges during the 19th century.
In 1961, the University Proctors banned the student magazine 'Isis' from publishing reviews of lectures. Students resisted, and legally incorporated the Oxford University Student Representative Council (OUSRC) for the first time. They then agitated for formal university recognition of the OUSRC, and petitioned the United Kingdom's Privy Council, asking the government to amend the Oxford and Cambridge Universities Act. Rather than risk having its hand forced by legislation, the University relented, and formally recognised the OUSRC in 1970.
The OUSRC adopted its contemporary constitution in 1974, changing its name to the Oxford University Student Union.
Protests and occupations
Several student groups participated in protests against the introduction of tuition fees from 1998 onwards, with Oxford students playing a major role in the nationwide Campaign for Free Education. Activities included non-payment campaigns, the occupation of Exam Schools in 1998 and of the Development Office in November 1999, several marches and a short-lived blockade of the University Offices. OUSU support for these protests was limited in 1998, but became more formal during the presidency of Anneliese Dodds (1999). Following another occupation of Exam Schools in January 2004, the university pursued disciplinary action against five OUSU sabbatical officers.
Notable former presidents
- 1355 – The first true student president's name has been lost, and all that is known of him is that he was an undergraduate from the "northern English nation". He appeared during the St Scholastica Day Massacre, rallying together Oxford students from the different "nations" of Britain to defend the University, after riots erupted with townspeople that ultimately left hundreds of students dead and most colleges abandoned. He is sometimes also credited with leading students back to the University in the aftermath of the riots, but this is probably apocryphal.
- 1971 – Emily Wallace is elected OUSRC president, and is the first president of Oxford students to be officially recognised by the University.
- 1973 – Michael Sullivan becomes the first sabbatical president of Oxford students and the first president of the renamed Oxford University Student Union.
- 1982 – John Grogan becomes the first president to succeed in obtaining a seat for students at the University's governing council, in June 1983. He and two other students chosen by OUSU become observers for most of the council's agenda, and this practice is enshrined in the University's Statutes, Decrees, and Regulations.
- 1993 – Akaash Maharaj becomes the first ever visible minority president and first president from overseas. He helps lead a successful national campaign that thwarted a 1994 government bill to restrict the ability of students' unions to comment on public policy issues and that contributed to the ultimate dismissal from Cabinet of the then Secretary of State for Education.
- 1998 – Katherine Rainwood becomes the only known president to resign from office, leaving only days into her term of office after having been found by the University Proctors to have used "unfair means" during her final exams.
- 2003 – Will Straw carries on protests against the government's introduction of tuition fees for students, despite his father Jack Straw being a senior member of that government. Before coming to Oxford, Will Straw had made headlines for receiving a formal police caution for drug-dealing.
Homepages of former presidents