Fascists, Fees and Fraternities – What you missed over the vac…

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Oxford’s student societies were not immune from controversy over the vac, with two groups hitting The OxStu’s headlines. In July, the Oxford Union made the national news after inviting Tommy Robinson – leader  of the English Defence League – to speak in a union debate on nationalism in Michaelmas. The move sparked widespread condemnation from groups including OUSU and Unite Against Fascism, who branded Robinson as a ”fascist”.

Tom Rutland, OUSU president, commented at the time: “There is no value in inviting or hosting hate speakers in the name of ‘free speech’ when they themselves do not believe in free speech nor a free society, and stand on a platform of oppressing people because of their race, religion, gender or sexuality”.

However, in September, the Union revoked Robinson’s invitation to speak. In an email sent to the EDL, Union president Parit Wacharasindhu cited difficulties in covering ”significant security costs” as the reason for its withdrawal. The decision came a week after Robinson was arrested at an EDL march for not adhering to the conditions of the demonstration. Wacharasindhu had previously defended the controversial invitation on the principle of free speech.

The vac, though, did some positive news for prospective applicants, as the university scrapped the ‘wealth test’ for those applying for postgrad courses. From this year, graduate applicants will no longer be required to provide evidence of being able to afford their tuition fees plus an annual £12,900 in living expenses before being offered a place. A less rigorous ‘financial declaration’ is to be implemented in its place.

The news came after a media storm at the beginning of last year when Damien Shannon – an Economics applicant for St Hugh’s – had his offer revoked for being unable to provide evidence of having access to £21,000 per year. Shannon later mounted a legal challenge against St Hugh’s, which was settled out of court. He is due to begin his MSc in Economics and Social History at the college this month.

There was also good news from the university’s latest research projects. Advances made by Oxford Mobile Robotics Lab, led by Professor Paul Newman at Keble, mean that driverless cars designed at the university are to be tested on British roads this year. A blueprint from the Department for Transport has revealed that the cars, which are run entirely on electricity, will be trialled as part of a multi-million government scheme to ease congestion. The autonomous vehicles function with the aid of a series of lasers and small cameras which keep track of their position.

While Professor Newman insisted that there remains “lots more work to do” before driverless cars become widespread, the public trials will be the first of their kind to take place in the UK.

Outside the confines of the university, a number of arrests were made in July, after a shooting which seriously injured a woman in the Blackbird Leys area. Police were called out to an address on Crowberry Road in late July after a woman in her forties was shot. The victim was rushed to John Radcliffe Hospital with serious injuries, but was discharged the following day.

Following the incident, one 21 year old man was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, with a further four men arrested on suspicion of affray. All those arrested on suspicion of affray and attempted murder have been released on bail since the story was first reported. In the aftermath, Detective Inspector John Turner reassured members of the public, stating: “Police officers and PCSOs will be undertaking extra patrols in the area to provide a reassurance to the community of Blackbird Leys. ”

As usual, the summer vac marked the annual release of the Norrington table, with this year’s knocking up a few notable surprises. The league table, which ranks colleges according to the classes of degrees achieved by their graduates, saw a number of significant shifts. Whilst Harris Manchester climbed 20 places to 5th position, Keble missed their 2012 ranking by 19 places, falling to 27th place. New, meanwhile, claimed the top spot from Magdalen.

Oxford don Peter Millican was responsible for creating a huge storm in the Pottersphere, when he revealed that JK Rowling was the author of crime novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, published under the pseudonym Robert Gailbraith. Millican, a professor of philosophy at Hertford College, used his unrealised ‘Signature’ computer software to analyse the similarities between the text and her earlier works.

After Millican’s dramatic revelation, the book went from 4,709th to the first best-selling novel on Amazon. Despite the explosion of sales, Rowling said she would have preferred to remain anonymous. She said: “Being Robert Gailbraith has been such a liberating experience…It has been wonderful to publish without hype and expectation.” Ah, the woes of success…

Finally, this summer vac saw the Oxford University Conservative Association courting controversy, with news of the existence of the ‘Viceroys’, a secret British Empire themed dining society. In a dossier leaked to The OxStu, it was revealed that selected male OUCA members, referred to by the names of ex-British colonies, with the president named India, and other members named Ireland, Australia, and Canada.

The dossier also reveals that the members host white tie banquets  to commemorate anniversaries of events in British history, including St Crispin’s Day, the Battle of Agincourt, and the regicide of Charles I.