Oxford University Student Union

Oxford University Student Union
Oxford University Student Union
Oxford University Student Union logo
Institution University of Oxford
Location 2 Worcester Street, Oxford, OX1 2BX
Established c13th century (unincorporated), 1961 (as OUSRC), 1974 (as OUSU)
Members c. 20,000,
Affiliations National Union of Students, Aldwych Group
Website http://www.ousu.org

OUSU sabbatical officers 2011/12

President Martha Mackenzie
Vice-President (Access & Academic Affairs) Hannah Cusworth
Vice-President (Charities & Community) Dan Stone
Vice-President (Graduates) Jim O'Connell
Vice-President (Welfare & Equal Opportunities) Seb Baird
Vice-President (Women) Yuan Yang

The Oxford University Student Union is the official students' union of the University of Oxford. It is better known in Oxford by its acronym, OUSU (play /ˈz/ ow-zoo). It exists to represent Oxford University students in the University's decision-making, to act as the voice for 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, although similarly named, is separate private club with no representative functions.



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 deaths recorded as early as 1260.[1]

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.[2]

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.



Reflecting the collegiate nature of the University of Oxford itself, OUSU is both an association of Oxford's more than 20,000 individual students and a federation of the affiliated Junior Common Rooms (JCRs), Middle Common Rooms (MCRs) and other Constituent Organisations that represent all undergraduate and graduate students at the University's forty-four colleges and Permanent Private Halls.

Individual students can opt out of membership, although this right is rarely exercised. Individual Common Rooms can also disaffiliate, and disaffiliation debates and votes are perennial fixtures of some Common Rooms.


OUSU is financed by a block grant from the University and the activities of the commercial subsidiary Oxford Student Services Limited (OSSL).

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 Examination Schools to clubs and societies, held during Freshers' week; publishing, primarily of handbooks for and by students, but also of The Oxford Forum magazine, The Oxford Student newspaper and Oxide Radio, a student radio station.


OUSU is led by a 22-member Executive Committee, which includes six full-time salaried sabbatical officers, who generally serve in the year following completion of their Finals, although this is not a requirement, and 16 part-time Executive Officers, who serve while continuing their studies. Included in these totals, there is one sabbatical and three 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; three representatives from each affiliated JCR; two representatives from each affiliated MCR; and one vote representing each of the six OUSU Autonomous Campaigns. If a JCR or MCR has fewer than 100 members, it receives one fewer Council vote. The Chair of Council is elected by the Council itself in each academic term.

Protests and occupations

Shortly before the formation of OUSU in 1974, agitation commenced within certain sections of the student body for a Central Students Union building by the Student Representative Council, forerunner of OUSU. The University feared that the existence of such facilities would be used for the promotion of student activism. In 1972, during the miners strike, students had offered their rooms to miners picketing Didcot Power Station and had supported staff who went on strike at St Anne's College.

On 5 November 1973, an open meeting called for direct action against the University on the issue of a Central Students Union building. Later that day 350 students marched to the Examination Schools and commenced a sit in, which lasted seven days. The University Registrar, Geoffrey Caston, sent an open letter to all Junior Members threatening proceedings in the High Court and disciplinary action against those who could be identified. The occupation was ended by students themselves after the University obtained a writ of possession.

OUSU was recognised by the University in early January 1974, and a meeting was held on 29 January with the Vice Chancellor and others. The Vice Chancellor, John Habakkuk, made it clear that the University was facing deep cuts and there was no money for a CSU project. OUSU asked for a general statement that the University was not opposed in principle to central student facilities. The University refused on the grounds that Congregation was not favourably disposed to making general statements of intent.

The University was expecting a second occupation and contingency plans were drawn up. The Bursar of St Johns College wrote to the President of the Junior Common Room on 11 February noting, 'all the talk that is going on at the present time about occupation'. , and stating that in future the Bursary would be kept locked.[3] It was reported that over £9,000 worth of damage had ben done to the Examination Schools during the occupation the previous November. On 7 February An Extraordinary OUSU Council Meeting was held. Sue Lukes, David Aaronovitch and others attempted to defeat a motion stating that it was the position of OUSU not to support any occupation of University premises in furtherance of the CSU campaign. When this motion was put, Lukes and Aaronovitch resigned, the former making a speech condemning Council in its entirety. "Pushing and shoving' began, with Mike Sullivan pointing out to Lukes that there was such a thing as left wing fascism. The meeting broke up in a shambles.[4]

The following day, an anonymous flyer was circulated, headed 'Remember the 5th of November', it gave warning to the University that 'You have had three months and your time is up. Negotiations have failed, talking has failed, OUSU has failed. Come to the Open Meeting on Monday night in the Union Hall. And don't forget your sleeping bag!'

At 9.15am on Wednesday 13 February approximately 50 or 60 students entered the Indian Institute building in Catte Street shouting that they were occupying it and demanding that the people working there should leave. The 22 staff inside stayed at their desks while the students milled around after first closing the doors. What happened next was the subject of bitter dispute. The University claimed that at around 11.30am, about 50 volunteers, 'relatively elderly gentlemen' working in the Clarendon Building decided out of concern for their colleagues to enter the building. A secretary let them in through a rear window, and once inside they confronted the intruders, who having made a show of resisting, left in groups through the front door. The spokesman for the University insisted there was no violence, although it was conceded that there was some scrummaging and, 'ears may have been twisted'.[5]

Those supporting the occupiers claimed that the University had set the Oxford University Police upon them who, goaded on by the Proctors, perpetrated acts of violence against the students, and encouraged the police, who were outside, to wade in also. The supporters of the occupiers asserted it was a 'pre-planned and ugly piece of violence'. It was alleged that at least one of the 'relatively elderly gentlemen' was in fact a serving police officer out of uniform, who was identified at a subsequent demonstration.[6]

The University identified those it believed to have been the ringleaders and moved swiftly against them. Eighteen students were charged with an offence under the University Statutes and were required to attend at the Proctor's Office in cap and gown on 21 February under threat of being rusticated if they did not appear. The eighteen included Sue Lukes and another student from Somerville College, three from Magdalen and two each from Pembroke, St Johns and Balliol They were committed for trial at a Disciplinary Court on 11 March, during the Easter vacation. The chairman of the Court was Barry Nicholas, a Professor of Comparative Law. All who attended agreed that the trial was a travesty of justice. Mike Sullivan wrote an open letter describing how the Court decided every procedural point against the defendants; several were expelled for making objections, including Tariq Ali who was acting as a McKenzie friend to some of the defendants. Gordon Day, President of St John's Junior Common Room reported that even Andrew Turek, an ex President of the University Monday Club and a virulent supporter of disciplinary action being taken against those who occupied University buildings, described the proceedings as a 'farce' and labelled the University Marshall, Mr Skinner, as 'a maniac who should not be allowed on University property'.[7]

On the testimony, mainly, of a University Police Officer, Philip Berry, all of the defendants were convicted of being present at the occupation. It was admitted in Court that the Proctors were present together with other 'employees' of the University and an 'independent contractor' with two of his men. It was conceded that the 'occupation' amounted to nothing more than possession of the stairs and corridors and no violence was at any time offered to University staff. Nevertheless, the eighteen defendants were all sent down with the sentence suspended for one year. A subsequent appeal by thirteen of the defendants failed.[8]

The CSU campaign continued with declining support through the latter half of the 1970s. Direct action was mooted by those leading the campaign, but there was never any serious propect of another occupation.

Protests and Occupations 1990s to Date

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,[9] 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.[10]

In 2001 and 2007, OUSU led protests against speakers at the Oxford Union. In 2001, Kirsty McNeill led a successful protest to stop the visit of Holocaust denier David Irving to the debating society. In 2007, the Oxford Union attracted condemnation again for inviting Irving and BNP leader Nick Griffin to speak at a "free speech forum". The then OUSU President, Martin McCluskey, led a campaign against the visits which attracted attention and support from national anti-fascist organisations, politicians[11][12][13] and media commentators.

Former Presidents

Year President
2010–11 David Barclay
2009–10 Stefan Baskerville
2008–09 Lewis Iwu
2007–08 Martin McCluskey
2006–07 Alan Strickland
2005–06 Emma Norris
2004–05 John Blake
2003–04 Helena Puig Larrauri
2002–03 Will Straw
2001–02 Ruth Hunt
2000–01 Kirsty McNeill
1999–2000 Anneliese Dodds
1998–1999 Katherine Rainwood/ Mark Strathdene/ Josh Bell
  • 1971 – Emily Wallace was elected OUSRC president, the first president of Oxford students to be officially recognised by the University.
  • 1973 – Michael Sullivan became the first sabbatical president of Oxford students and the first president of the renamed Oxford University Student Union.
  • 1982 – John Grogan became 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 became observers for most of the council's agenda, and this practice was enshrined in the University's Statutes, Decrees, and Regulations.
  • 1993 – Akaash Maharaj became the first ever visible ethnic minority president and also the first president from overseas (Canada). He helped 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, John Patten.
  • 1998 – Katherine Rainwood became 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 Finals.[14]
  • 2003 – Will Straw carried out protests against the government's introduction of tuition fees for students, despite his father Jack Straw being a senior member of the government of the day. Before coming up to Oxford, Will Straw had made headlines for receiving a formal police caution for drug-dealing.
  • 2011 David Barclay leads the campaign of no confidence against the Higher Education Minister David Willets, making Oxford the first University to do so. Also successfully lobbied for a lower tuition fee for students from household incomes under £21,000.

See also

External links

Homepages of former presidents


  1. ^ Catto, Jeremy, The History of the University of Oxford, Oxford University Press (Oxford, 1994).
  2. ^ Ashby, Eric, The Rise of the Student Estate in Britain, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1970)
  3. ^ Letter from H Kidd to G C Day 11 February 1974
  4. ^ Minutes of Extraordinary Council Meeting 7 February 1974 Gill Green Secretary
  5. ^ Open letter from Geoffrey Caston 14 February 1974
  6. ^ The University's Reply (Anon) 14 February 1974, No Victimisation (CSU Campaign) undated
  7. ^ University Disciplinary Court (Gordon Day) undated
  8. ^ Oxford University Gazette, 19 April 1974
  9. ^ Adam Fleming (1999-11-11). "Who Wants To Be Arrested?". Oxford Student. http://www.oxfordstudent.com/mt1999wk5/news/who_wants_to_be_arrested%3F. 
  10. ^ Patrick Foster (2004-04-03). "Sabs Proctorised". Oxford Student. http://www.oxfordstudent.com/ht2004wk7/news/sabs_proctorised. 
  11. ^ "Early Day Motion 358". House of Commons. http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=34478. 
  12. ^ "MP Quits Union over BNP Speaker". BBC News. 25 November 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/oxfordshire/7111933.stm. 
  13. ^ McSmith, Andy (26 November 2007). "Critics line up to attack Oxford Union over 'free speech' debate". Independent (London). http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/critics-line-up-to-attack-oxford-union-over-free-speech-debate-760476.html. 
  14. ^ Phil Baty (1998-09-11). "Student cheat forces a review". Times Higher Education Supplement. 

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