Oxford University spent over £300,000 renovating Oxford SU’s stylish new offices, Cherwell has learnt.
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealed the University’s Estates Services paid out over £200,000 on building work and nearly £175,000 on redecorating to move the student union headquarters.
University officials spent a further £25,000 on interior designers and £26,000 on new furniture for the new offices, the figures show.
Oxford SU moved from 2 Worcester Street to the larger university-owned premises at 4 Worcester Street in September last year. It was part of a wider makeover that also involved rebranding from ‘OUSU’ to ‘Oxford SU’. According to Oxford SU, the relocation was requested by the University.
Oxford University paid a total of £316,651 on the refitting job, a cost that will fuel debate on the spiralling costs of the SU’s rebranding scheme and raise questions over why the University, and not Oxford SU, solely footed the bill for the work at a time of heightened scrutiny on University expenses.
Last August, Cherwell revealed that Oxford SU paid a London PR agency over £17,000 to improve its image amongst the student body, including designing a new logo and website.
The rebrand followed a survey showing Oxford’s student union has some of the lowest satisfaction rates in the country.
At the time, students took to social media to brand the cost “absolutely obscene”.
The 4 Worcester Street offices are used by the elected sabbatical officers and other staff, as well as the student union’s official newspaper the Oxford Student and its relaunched online radio station Oxide.
Ray Williams, an Oxide presenter, while admitting the studio was “cramped”, described the new premises as “modern and clean with high quality equipment”.
Felix Pope, a Hertford student said: “It’s nothing short of absurd that the University and Oxford SU have decided that the best way to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds is to do up a suite of offices that the vast majority of students will never enter, for an organisation that that vast majority of students couldn’t care less about.
“Why buy state of the art recording equipment for a radio station that will attract a few dozen listeners at most? Why splurge on a body so irrelevant to student life that that couldn’t convince even a fifth of us to bother to vote in its most recent internal election? And why waste yet more money after SU functionaries blew 17 grand this summer on an ugly new logo that could’ve been thrown together in ten minutes on Photoshop?
“Surely this money could be better spent on improving student mental health provision, funding outreach work, or helping support those from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
An Oxford SU spokesperson told Cherwell: “The new space has increased the opportunity for students to use space that Oxford SU provides with more student meetings, campaigns and socials happening in the building over the last term.
“It has also increased space for the University’s Student Welfare and Support Services, which includes the counselling and disability advisory services.”
A University spokesperson told Cherwell: “These costs relate to a project designed to improve a range of services for our students. The project included providing OxfordSU with additional office and meeting space, which will allow it to further develop its service for students.
“It also expanded space for University’s Student Welfare and Support Services, which includes the counselling and disability advisory services – allowing for additional appointments with students; and brought together the Welfare, Graduate Accommodation and Fees and Funding teams in buildings close to OxfordSU.
“We believe the project will benefit students across the University, and that the costs are proportionate for a project of this scale.”