Tensions have arisen between OUSU and the Oxford Union, following OUSU’s failure to include the guide on the Union in their Freshers’ packs.
The accidental omission of the Union guide in the Freshers’ packs, which are sent out around two weeks before Michaelmas commences, was a breach of OUSU’s contract with the Union. It led to fears that Union membership would fall this year, as they usually rely on large numbers of Freshers signing up for lifetime membership prior to their arrival in Oxford.
President of the Oxford Union Izzy Westbury commented, “OUSU apparently forgot to tell the printers and delivery service that the Oxford Union Freshers’ Guides were to be inserted and sent with the OUSU ones.”
The realisation of OUSU’s error was, according to Westbury, “quite frightening first off,” and prompted the Union to undertake a huge membership drive, largely through online publicity campaigns. The Union advertised itself on Facebook and Twitter, through mail-outs, and by releasing its Freshers’ Guide and term-card online for the first time.
Westbury said, “All in all, a huge amount of extra work was caused. I worked round-the-clock (well it felt like it…) to ensure that the printed term card came out a week early so that as soon as Freshers arrived they got them. The annual Freshers’ Fair was given a make-over and turned into a Student Survival Fair and we also hosted huge drinks parties for Graduates, Oxford Brookes and International students – all of which were a great success.”
Westbury explained that the publicity campaign proved successful, as membership numbers were not down this year, despite the “distressingly slow start.”
“In the end, as in past years, 70% of undergraduates joined the Union,” she said. “Our Freshers’ Fortnight revolves around telling students exactly what the Union can offer them, and this year we succeeded as never before, given that the incoming students knew very little before they arrived.”
According to the President, “in midnight moments of frustration,” the Union considered taking “serious action” against OUSU, but decided against it. “Without them we cannot spread our name throughout the university to the extent that we do. Therefore, as I do not want to create a huge problem for next year’s Michaelmas President, we have decided not to take action. We have however negotiated with OUSU so that they have reimbursed us for the cost of the Freshers’ Guide distribution and footed the cost for the Guides to be redistributed to Freshers’ pigeon holes in 2nd week of term.”
“We’ve worked hard to create a good relationship with OUSU over the last year or so and I believe that we have achieved that. I know Martha (OUSU President) well and know that she’s doing a great job, but it just happens that what may have been considered a minor mistake by them had huge ramifications for us.”
She added that the situation had been “a nightmare, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”
One student who spoke to Cherwell reflected, “I would have joined the Union anyway, regardless of receiving the leaflet in the post or not, due to the offer of lifetime membership.”
Juliet Roe, an undergraduate at University College, was not won over by the Union’s publicity campaign, however. She commented, “Both my college parents and my common sense told me not to join the Union.”