OUSU Council has overwhelmingly voted against a motion to drop support for next week’s national demonstration for free education, with only five members voting in favour. The demonstration, due to take place on Wednesday the 19th of November in central London, is being organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, the Student Assembly Against Authority, and the Young Greens, and had previously enjoyed NUS support.
The emergency motion, proposed by OUSU President Louis Trup, would have resolved “To withdraw OUSU’s support for the Free Education demonstration”, citing the “safety and accessibility concerns” raised by NUS President Toni Pearce in a statement last week abandoning support for the policy.
Pearce’s statement, released on the 4th of November to account for the sudden change in NUS policy, cited the “unacceptable level of risk that this demonstration currently poses to our members”, highlighting accessibility issues, the concerns of NUS liberation officers, and the absence of public liability insurance as factors in the decision.
The OUSU motion further stated that “the safety of students is of paramount concern”, quoting OUSU’s Chief Executive Officer in saying that “The risk assessment as issued by the demonstration organisers reads like a provisional risk assessment, not one that is ready for an imminent event with thousands of attendees.”
During his speech proposing the motion, Trup stated that he did not “want to be doing this”, putting it on record that “I support free education”, and that he has been involved in organising the demo, while asserting that “we’ve had to do what we’ve had to do” in bringing the motion forward.
The motion noted that “Council is best placed to make a decision on whether OUSU should continue to support the demonstration”, while also pointing out that “the failure of this motion to pass will not limit the ability for the trustee board to withdraw OUSU’s support for the demo if further grave concerns about safety arise.”
Barnaby Raine, an OUSU Trustee, commented on Facebook that he was “irritated” by the actions of the trustees, arguing that “when safety concerns are dishonestly manufactured there is no legal duty on the trustees to take them seriously. The trustees are people, not automatons; we have a role in assessing concerns and judging whether they are sufficiently serious to demand action, and the wrong call has been made here.”
In a speech at council, Raine reiterated his point, saying that OUSU Council should not serve as “useful idiots” for a “dishonest” NUS agenda.
Jack Matthews, former President of the Oxford University Conservative Association, corroborated Raine’s position, noting that while he does not support free education as a policy, he believes the concerns raised by the NUS leadership were being done so for purely “party political” reasons.
Annie Teriba, a second year History and Politics student at Wadham, also spoke during the debate to register her “disgust” at the “use of a language of accessibility and liberation” to disguise a political agenda.