St Hilda’s JCR have passed a motion to establish a Class Liberation Officer, who will represent members of the JCR from socio-economically disadvantaged and working-class backgrounds.
The motion, proposed by Charles Ors and seconded by Nina Chatrath, notes that people from working-class backgrounds are under-represented at Oxford and asserts that they suffer from ‘microaggressions’ and classism while at university.
To help address this issue, they say that “the position of Class Liberation Officer should be created to represent the interests of students from working class backgrounds and act in a similar way to the POC and RE Officer, LGBTQ+ Officer, Women’s Officer and Disabilities Officer to represent students who self-identify as being part of this group.”
The motion stipulates that the officer will run ‘compulsory workshop’ during Freshers’ Week “looking as [sic] class discrimination and microaggression, cultural appropriation etc directed at students from a working class background”. They will also “work closely” with other liberation officers and the Access and Equal Opportunities Officer.
Speaking to The Oxford Student, the motion’s proposer, Charles Ors, said that: “Through the creation of the position we hope firstly to have more accessible and comprehensive support for students from a socio/economically disadvantaged/working class background – we hope that the position will provide this support and representation.”
The under-representation of the most socially and economically deprived pupils has been in the press over the last year. At the beginning of the year, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission published a report which criticised Oxford and Cambridge for giving places to a “disproportionate number of students from private schools”. The report showed that Oxford would need to increase its intake of pupils from state schools by 24% in order to meet its benchmark. Just a few weeks ago, figures were released showing that no pupils from the most deprived areas of Oxford – Blackbird Leys and Northfield Brook – had been awarded a place at Oxford University in over a decade.
Early in 2016, the government produced a White Paper detailing proposals to publish admissions data relating to ethnic minority and disadvantaged applicants. Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities, said this amounted to a “transparency revolution”. The move followed comments made by David Cameron earlier this year, when he said that Oxford is “not doing enough to attract talent from across our country”.
But the issue flared up at the end of May, when Oxford’s Chancellor, Lord Patten of Barnes, faced criticism from OUSU and JCR officers after saying that quotas will lower standards. He told The Telegraph: “I am in favour of universities recognising their responsibilities for promoting social inclusion but I don’t think that if you want high class universities you should expect them to lower their standards in order to make up for some inadequacies in our secondary education system.” Since then, University College have announced that a 10% increase in its places will be reserved for student from deprived backgrounds.