Oxford’s student union has been ranked joint worst in the country according to a student satisfaction survey published last week.
Results published by the National Student Survey gave the student union (OUSU) a student satisfaction rating of just 39%, placing it joint last with Oxford Brookes. At the other end of scale, the University of Sheffield’s student union had the highest satisfaction rating at 95%.
One second year English student said, “I’ve been here a year and apart from the response to the removal of the HFL (History Faculty Library), I can’t think of one significant thing that they’ve introduced. If OUSU wants support and input from the students they need to make themselves known to the students.”
Basil Vincent, ex-JCR President of Keble College, said, “I think that this survey reflects an unfortunate reality about OUSU. The excellent work it does is often unknown to students, who instead see the institution as a bit irrelevant. I’ve seen first-hand just how crucial OUSU is to maintaining student welfare in Oxford, and so I’m a bit disappointed to see it come last.”
Unlike in universities such as Sheffield, Oxford does not have a central social hub as part of the student union, as that function is often provided by JCRs.The view that collegiate systems reduce student satisfaction seems to be backed up by the fact that Cambridge University student union received a similarly low satisfaction rating of only 46%.
Sam Allen, a Maths student from Sheffield University, explained why he believed his student union deserved the rating it received. “The building is smack bang in the middle of the university so it’s a great point to meet. All the staff are really helpful and informative and there’s everything there from club nights, to banking and coffee shops.”
Oxford Brookes Students’ Union faces similar challenges. Adam Frost, a second year student at the university, claimed, “The union definitely has a presence at Brookes; however for my part I have never had to deal with them.”
He continued, “I feel that there is more that could be done to improve the union. I for one don’t even know whether an SU bar exists at Brookes, or what it is responsible for. It needs to make itself and its services better known to students.”
OUSU’s current President, David Townsend, stated “OUSU has difficulties with student engagement, and the NSS score reflects that. OUSU can’t blame these idiosyncrasies for all of its problems.”
However, he was positive about OUSU’s capacity to address these problems, claiming that the chance to do so was “one of the big reasons why the current year’s sabbatical officers chose to run for office.” He also said that, “Where students have interacted with OUSU and know what it does, the numbers are overwhelmingly positive, so it’s clear that OUSU has to get better at communicating what it does and at supporting students’ departmental representatives, as you would expect of a Student Union at any other university.”
Townsend also suggested that an improved communications strategy and ongoing professionalisation of its operations will lead to an “upward trend” in student satisfaction.
Felix Neate, former Corpus Christi OUSU Officer, disagreed with the survey, commenting, “I don’t think the fact that OUSU is irrelevant to the average Oxford student makes it the worst student union. No one actually wants to hear from them, so the fact that they’re inaudible really works in their favour.”