Oxford students face substantial problems in their own lives. We have just seen a massive increase in fees and student debt and funding cuts to the education system nationally, while the cost of living, already high in Oxford, continues to rise. Poorer students in particular are having difficulty making ends meet. Students are subject to arbitrary disciplinary procedures and arcane regulations. We are also underrepresented within the University’s governing structures. The academics have a powerful democratic body, the Congregation, to express their interests, and this has played an important role in resisting plans to make Oxford’s administration more managerial and market-driven. But students’ voices are scarcely represented at all in University governance, while our student union is underfunded (compared to the average for Russell Group universities), and University regulations make it difficult for it to even raise its own funds.
At Oxford, we need a student union that is prepared to challenge the government over Higher Education funding and the University authorities over arbitrary disciplinary procedures. We need a union that will support lecturers’ campaigns to defend academic democracy against marketisation and unaccountable bureaucracy, but also push for greater transparency and more representation of students in University affairs. We need a union that will stand up for us.
But we also need a union that will stand up for others. At other British universities, international students face deportation, and institutions are in danger of actual privatisation or closure. Meanwhile, working people and those who rely on public services across the country are facing even worse problems, as a direct result of the current government’s misguided economic policies. Austerity continues to bite, and this will affect our families, friends, neighbours and fellow-citizens – perhaps more than it will affect us. Most of us have relations and friends abroad, who may be facing even worse situations: austerity across the European Union, IMF-imposed budgets in Asia and Africa, the violence fuelled by the arms trade (in which the University still invests worldwide). The problems Oxford students face are minor by comparison.
We are, after all, at one of the best universities in one of the richest countries in the world. We are privileged, and this can allow us to remain uninterested in politics. We assume that our fortunate situation means that we will be alright whatever happens politically, while others in more exposed situations simply cannot afford to be indifferent to the issues that determine their lives. On the other hand, our privileges as Oxford students bring us many advantages. We have the space, time and freedom to study and reflect on the world we live in; we have the resources and skills to change it. We can bring an enormous amount of energy and intelligence to bear on behalf of progressive movements and campaigns, if we choose to. We have resources which the more disadvantaged do not have, and we face a choice: do we use them to make common cause with those who are less privileged than us, or simply to advance our own careers?
The Oxford Left slate’s answer to this is clear: we need a vision of student politics that involves standing up for students and standing up for others. Oxford Left is made up of people committed to such a vision. These people are not standing for election because it will look good on their CVs or because they see OUSU as a good career path. They are standing to represent us as Oxford students because they care about the issues that affect Oxford and the world, and because they have concrete proposals for working towards solutions to these issues. For far too long, Oxford students have buried their heads in the sand of privilege, and remained indifferent to politics. Oxford Left is working to change that.