OUSU Council has voted to provide £200 of funding for transportation to a Free Education protest scheduled for Wednesday 19th November in central London. The vote took place on Wednesday night amongst much confusion with both the debate and the voting mired in procedural issues.
The original motion, proposed by OUSU Disabled Students Officer James Elliott and seconded by OUSU Access and Admissions Officer Annie Teriba, called for OUSU “to support free education as a policy and the NUS campaign against fees and debt”, as well as to provide financial and organisational support.
However, OUSU Council only agreed to provide the financial and organisational resources requested, voting to delay debating Free Education as OUSU policy until a vote in 3rd week. The decision followed complaints from several JCR Presidents that they had not been given enough notice about the motion to consult students on the issue.
The version of the motion passed at OUSU Council requires OUSU to organise subsidised transport from Oxford to the demonstration and to sell tickets for it. The planned protest was first called by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), and has since gained support from the National Executive Council of the NUS, the Student Assembly Against Austerity, the Young Greens, as well as a number of universities including Manchester, Sussex, Brighton, Royal Holloway, Sheffield and Aberdeen. However, other student groups, such as Labour Students, have said that they will not be supporting the protest.
Speaking about the motion, James Elliott, who is also a member of the National Executive Council of the NUS, told Cherwell, “I’m delighted the vote passed, and that OUSU is standing up for students in the fight for free education. While some argued we should have sat on our hands and done nothing, I encourage those who think education is about more than profit to join us on the demonstration.”
OUSU VP for Academic Affairs James Blythe, referring to the division of the motion over various meetings, commented, “I’m glad Council decided to spend its money to allow students who are passionate about their cause to demonstrate and be part of a significant, nationwide student movement. That is totally separate from the setting of OUSU policy on education funding, which we’ll be debating in 3rd week. I look forward to that discussion in Council. All those involved are committed to having a constructive, open and respectful debate.”
The motion, which follows the postponement of cuts to the Disabled Student Allowance and the student loan book sell-off, referenced the total abolition of tuition fees in Germany earlier this month. The debate over free education at OUSU Council also comes after comments by Oxford University Vice-Chancellor Andrew Hamilton in October 2013, which suggested tuition fees should be raised to up to £16,000 per year.
However, the passing of the Free Education motion was marred by disorder when, following an initial debate, voting on whether to adopt Free Education policy was moved to 3rd week, after a procedural motion. This delaying motion was initially declared to have passed after a majority voted in favour, with a large group of primarily pro-voters leaving the meeting shortly afterwards.
However, after many of the voters had left, the chair realised that the procedural motion vote had been wrongly conducted.
A revote thus occurred, with some college representatives missing. A period of confusion then followed and the motion was eventually voted on in parts, with the decision of OUSU to fund and organise the protest transport passing 32 to 15, with 7 abstentions.
Former Chair of OUSU Council Jack Matthews commented, “Wednesday’s Council was a complete farce. Putting aside the failures leading up to Council, which restricted Reps’ ability to consult Common Rooms on this most important of issues, the meeting itself descended into chaos. Members were left confused and frustrated — at one point several people left having been incorrectly led to believe the meeting had finished. There was a complete lack of leadership and guidance from the Chair.
“The first Council of the year is always full of first time attendees — I fear their experience on Wednesday will not inspire them to return and participate. Council has to be accessible and understandable, and instil confidence that the system works. I question whether the current Chair has the ability to deliver this.”
Hertford JCR President Josh Platt added, “Myself and some other JCR presidents were very concerned that we had not been allowed any time to consult our Common Rooms on such an important issue as free education. The agenda for the meeting was not sent round JCR presidents until late Wednesday morning, so there was no way we could have effectively represented the student opinion in our colleges. Now that the debate on the substantive part of the motion has been pushed back to 3rd Week, I’m looking forward to hearing the views of our student body on how education in this country should be funded.”
In response to concerns about how the meeting was run, Chair of OUSU Council Anna Bazley told Cherwell, “We take student feedback very seriously at OUSU Council and will take everything into account following the meeting last night.
“The complete agendas for all future councils will be sent out on the Friday before council to ensure that Presidents and Representatives are able to consult their Common Rooms beforehand. We will also ensure that all future councils have a projector to re-affirm our commitment to paperless Council and to enable any changes to motions or the agenda to be visible to all members of Council.
“Regarding the procedural motion, I apologise for the fact that due to a miscommunication, proper procedure wasn’t followed. Council processes are in place for a reason and I would like to apologise to anyone who was unable to vote or voice their opinion due to this mistake, and to anyone who felt alienated or confused by the lack of order that followed. I would invite anyone to attend third week council where the majority of the motion will be debated in full.”
The pledging of £200 of OUSU funding from the campaigns budget follows Balliol JCR on Sunday unanimously passing a similar motion to support the demonstration, which was amended to provide £100 in funding — double the original £50 requested by the motion.