It’s not perfect, but what it provides is unparalleled. The Oxford Union is, with good reason, renowned the world over for the quality of people it both hosts and produces. Merely being able to join the Union is something of an honour.
The price, even with a freshers’ discount, can be hard to stomach. This can be so even with further reductions for students from low-income backgrounds. It really must, however, be thought of as an investment in your future.
You’re buying a ticket to world-class speakers and debates, cheaper-than-average balls, and the opportunity to, once a term, give your approval to the officer candidates whom many claim have already been pre-selected for you in a dark room somewhere.
And joking aside, there are few places where you could get this experience. So you stood outside in the rain to meet Bernie Sanders? You still got to hear Bernie Sanders. Of course, balloting may be better used for certain events, but the opportunity alone is to be relished.
When Oxford is looked upon the world over as a centre of academic excellence, it’s because of niche factors like the ability of its students to debate with and, if they wish to do so, interrogate, celebrities and world experts.
Arguments that the Union is unrepresentative are with foundation. More can be done across Oxford’s societies to increase diversity among those who hold high office. But if this argument is taken as read, if we are given to think that it is only possible to succeed at the Union as a posh white boy, then diversity will never increase. Fewer people will join, fewer people will run for office, fewer people will see the benefits.
Membership also sees you able to join the competitive debating squads, benefitting from training from some of the best debaters in the world. Add to this a library that is well-stocked and underused, and a reasonably-priced bar that has an air of exclusivity whilst being open to all members, and you have a winning combination.
Much fun is often made of the idea of life membership: who in their right mind would return to the Union years after leaving Oxford just to hear a speech or check out a book? But even for three years, you can make, to the truly historic Union, cloaked in its prestige, the focal point of your University experience.