Debate: the OUSU elections

The presidential candidates on just what’s wrong with OUSU.

Tom Rutland

Let’s get one thing straight: OUSU does great things. It won the best access package in the country in the face of dramatically increased fees – a brilliant mix of fee waivers and bursaries – and it’s done so much more that students just don’t know about. Its communications are lacklustre and we must improve them, whether it’s by going to JCR/MCR meetings, using OUSU’s advertising space in the OxStu to introduce a column letting you know what OUSU’s doing (because you’re reading the OxStu, but you probably don’t go to OUSU Council) or having drop-in sessions with the team.

These improvements are important but your President must do more than just improve communications: they need a vision for OUSU. I want strong campaigns to extend our library opening hours, improve post-graduate funding, and increase our access work by bringing in more teachers than ever before – as they’re the ones who either encourage their pupils to apply, or tell them ‘no-one like you goes to Oxford’. Successful campaigns need many voices and adequate resources, which highlights one of OUSU’s main problems: its funding.

OUSU receives just £400k from the University compared to a £1.8m Russell Group average – less than the Vice-Chancellor receives in his annual pay package.  This is unsustainable. With OUSU coming bottom in student union rankings, increased funding is vital to solve its problems – especially communications. Other student unions employ a communication manager as standard – we need one too. I’ve started lobbying for more money with the previous OUSU President and I know we can succeed.

I’m running to be OUSU President because Oxford students are facing unprecedented challenges: tripled fees, rising living costs, and a lack of graduate jobs. I’ve got a proven track record of winning for students in my JCR: bar renovation, a low rent rise, academic feedback sessions, and a bursary for students undertaking unpaid or low paid internships. Within OUSU, I’ve campaigned for increased student loans for Oxford students and a national post-graduate loan system. Your President needs to know how OUSU works and how to get things done: I’ll hit the ground running.

Izzy Westbury 

Before we lambast OUSU for everything that’s wrong, it’s easy to forget that it also does a lot right. However…

OUSU is one of the most over-stretched student unions both financially and personnel-wise; we need to learn to prioritise. Yes, we need to push for increased funding from the university – but we’re already doing this, and of course this needs to continue. However, we also need to work effectively with what we currently have. We need to start making the tough decisions, prioritising the key issues that affect students, in Oxford, instead of chasing futile goals for the sake of making a statement. We need to focus on areas such as making college rent negotiations transparent, lobbying for increased graduate funding and ensuring that baseline standards of welfare and academic feedback are maintained across all colleges and departments.

We also need to communicate. For so long we’ve heard that OUSU has an image problem – but no-one’s actually done anything about it. That’s where Team Westbury is different. We’re not afraid to think outside the box – you only have to look at our posters and watch our YouTube videos to see that.

OUSU needs to engage more with students; it currently has a great relationship with Common Room presidents – but that’s about as far as it goes. We need to delve deeper. I’d start by introducing an annual Conference of Common Rooms to provide the training, the support and inter-collegiate networks – not just for Presidents, but for entire committees.

So, finally – why me? Firstly, I’ve got the experience. As Oxford Union President last year, I have already run a student organisation just as demanding and as complex as OUSU. I’ve had to deal with those unexpected crises that always arise at the most inconvenient moments – this is stuff that you can’t prepare for. I’ve shown proven financial prudence, I’ve learnt form my mistakes and I understand the perils of a high turnover of student positions; I therefore appreciate realistic and practical approaches to leadership. It’s naïve to accuse me of having no vision – I have the vision, and the determination, that’s the easy part, but I’ve also got a realistic plan to achieve it.