OUSU’s decision to axe the sabbatical position of VP Charities and Community and replace it with the new title of VP Campaigns and Democracy has come under fire from a member of the Part-Time Executive, resulting in a backlash of condemnation from some members of the Council.
At its 5th Week meeting, OUSU Council passed the motion based on the recommendation of the Strategic Review Group. Following discussions with students, the report states that, “Campaigning on issues around higher education funding was seen to be a near-universal priority.”
The proposed change to the Sabbatical Team is backed by the majority of OUSU Committee, including the President Stefan Baskerville and Jonny Medland, the current VP (Access and Academic Affairs).
Among those who are against the proposals for change is Jack Matthews, the current Common Room Support Officer, who said, “Whilst I recognise that the position of VP Charity and Community needs to be reformed, I am against its wholesale change to a VP Campaigns and Democracy.”
Although he acknowledges that the lack of student engagement with OUSU is a problem, he believes that the solution is not necessarily to raise OUSU’s campaigning profile, adding, “it is not clear what evidence there is for an increase in campaigning at the expense of the important roles that the VP (Charities and Community) carries out.
“It is puzzling why the VP (Charities and Community) whose job involves representing students to the local community, should be cut, when it does exactly what students have asked for.” 
The vocal opposition of Matthews and several others within OUSU has unleashed a backlash of condemnation from some members of the Council, who question their motives. One JCR President said, “It is disgraceful that a change that would help so many students is being opposed by a small clique who are among the very few people who actually stand to benefit from the preservation of the status quo. 
“Some of the objections being brought up are incredibly dishonest. These people say they want to help represent students, but they’re actually only interested in advocating their own prejudices and helping themselves.”   
The proposal’s supporters have countered its critics by reiterating that the position of VP Charities and Community was originally established due to the availability of funding that no longer exists. Supporters point out that the position has the smallest workload of all the sabbatical team, meaning its few essential duties can be easily redistributed among other student officers.
Supporters also point out that by supporting a sabbatical position that is dedicated to fulfilling the priorities identified as the most important by students, such as Higher Education funding and student housing, OUSU will be able to increase its involvement with Oxford students. 
Medland said, “OUSU could do a lot more if we had a sabbatical officer whose job was to engage students and campaign on their behalf. Our current organisational structure makes this hugely difficult – while OUSU achieves a lot through working closely with the university, this leads to there being less time to directly engage students. We need a role which is responsible for engaging students on questions like these.”  
Dani Quinn, VP (Welfare and Equal Opportunities), also supports the decision, citing the success of recent campaigns such as the recent University-wide Teaching Review and the Well-Being Week held in Hilary Term as examples of the positive effects that student campaigns can achieve. 
However, a small number of people involved in the Committee have vehemently opposed the move, advocating that the work of VP (Charities and Community) could not be incorporated into other positions. 
While it was recognised that much of the work undertaken by the position Charities and Committees is of great value to students and the community, much of this element of the role is duplicated by the activities of OxHub and RAG, both of which are in a strong position to continue to develop and to widen the scope of their work.  
The findings of the Review were drawn on results of an online survey completed by 834 students, and various focus groups involving JCR and MCR Presidents, OUSU Representatives and other students who have been closely involved with the student union and its work. The Review Group also received the assistance of an NUS Regional Officer in analysing the data and determining their conclusions. 
The proposal faces a committee vote again in OUSU’s 8th Week council, at which the new sabbatical position and its job description will need an approval of a two-thirds majority to pass. In a year which has seen radical reforms to OUSU’s finances, many are hoping that by securing this change to the Executive, funds will be able to be more efficiently utilised to directly benefit students in the future.