OUSU Council voted on Wednesday to pass Stefan Baskerville’s proposals for reforms to the OUSU funding structure which will end college affiliation fees. In a motion to support the paper “Urgent Challenges for OUSU and the University,” the student body also chose to back the OUSU president’s plans to incorporate the Student Union and include every student as a member.
The motion received strong opposition from Rob Shearer, president of disaffiliated Linacre College MCR, whose main complaint was OUSU’s lack of consultation with students, and who asked the passing of the motion be delayed until more consultation had been held. He pointed out that only one student had attended OUSU’s consultation meeting held just 36 hours after the plans were announced. “I know that because it was me,” he added.
Shearer further argued that the reforms were missing the point. “The underlying problem is that the budget keeps going up.” Dan Lowe of St Edmund Hall, one of numerous members who spoke out in favour of the motion, argued that this was misguided: “funding is the problem.”
OUSU’s funding structure is clearly unreliable and insufficient; as the report itself notes, even a massive cut in spending on services and firing several sabattical officers would not help OUSU back out of its current deficit.
The Council gave the motion overwhelming support. In opposing the reforms, Shearer represented a small but very vocal minority present at the meeting.
OUSU will now take the funding model to the University Joint Committee. There are no guarantees the proposals will ever be put into place; a similar model to this was rejected by the University authorities in 2007 and OUSU will be asking Oxford for a considerable amount of money. Baskerville admitted “I imagine the University will have some conditions” on the block grant, and suggested these may include evidence that OUSU continues to seek to save money.
However, it is hoped that the stronger student support this time will put more pressure on the University not to reject the model. Furthermore, by making these proposals in Hilary term rather than, as with previous attempts at OUSU reform, in Trinity term, the University will hopefully be more willing to listen, having not yet finalised its budget allocations for the year ahead.
Baskerville emphasised the importance and urgency of the reforms. “The way we are currently funded mismatches what we do… This is in the best interests of students, the best interests of common rooms and definitely the best interests of central student representation.”
Yet it seems Baskerville is already facing problems with his plans. He announcemed during Council that it was very unlikely that OUSU would be moving to new premises, despite seeking new premises being part of the Urgent Challenges paper. Baskerville said the University was “not willing to put up the funding.” However, Baskerville assured Council that, after passing the Urgent Challenges motion, OUSU would continue to put pressure on the University to consider funding a change in premises. The current offices at Thomas Hull House are both expensive and have no wheelchair access.
Jonny Medland, Access and Academic Affairs for OUSU, sees the success of the proposals as an opportunity for OUSU to stop endless debating over funding and budget deficits and focus on working for students. “We’ve been talking about this for years,” he said. “We’ve got more important things to talk about.”