OUSU Council has voted to make Free Education part of OUSU’s policy on education funding, as well as to support the NUS’ campaign against fees and debt.
The motion, proposed by OUSU Disabled Students Officer James Elliott and seconded by OUSU Access and Admissions Officer Annie Teriba, passed on Wednesday night, with 46 in favour, 17 against and seven abstentions.
The vote comes with just 20 days to go until a national demonstration for Free Education planned for 19 November, in London. The demonstration organised by The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, The Young Greens and The Student Assembly Against Austerity, and backed by the National Executive Committee of the NUS, is intended to mark an “escalation” in opposition to tuition fees,
The passing of the motion follows intense debate in JCRs on the issue over the weekend, with Trinity JCR mandating their representatives to vote for the motion by a single vote, after a vote of 19 in favour and 18 against, with two abstentions at their JCR meeting on Sun- day. A subsequent motion to donate £50 to subsidise travel to the protest failed after it did not acquire the two-thirds majority needed to pass, as required for financial motions in the Trinity JCR constitution.
However, the motion proved less controversial in other JCRs. Oriel JCR voted 33 to 10, with seven abstentions, in favour of supporting the Free Education motion, as did St Anne’s JCR by 30 votes to six, with 15 abstentions. The motions put forth in both JCRs, however, did not involve the donation of any funds to subsidise transportation to the demonstration.
Meanwhile, St John’s JCR voted against supporting the Free Education demonstration, but still decided to donate £75 towards transport to the demonstration.
The motion was opposed by OUSU Vice-President for Academic Affairs James Blythe. In a recent article for Cherwell, Blythe argued, “Tying OUSU to fighting for free higher education, is a policy that is, in my view, utterly unfeasible in the financial situation in which the UK currently finds itself and for the foreseeable future would leave student representatives unable to fight for real spending and tangible changes that could make an actual difference to students.”
He continued, “If we focus on free education, a battle the student movement, if we’re honest, lost 16 years ago, we will, in my view, look fiscally reckless and unaware of the political reality.”
OUSU Council had previously decided in its 1st Week meeting to provide £200 in funding for transportation to the demonstration, but decided to delay voting on whether to adopt Free Education as a policy, in order to give JCRs the opportunity to consult their members.
The motion claims not to affect the negotiating stance of OUSU’ executive in deliberations with the University on funding, bursaries or grants, but instead reflects OUSU’s intervention in ‘national policy-making’.
During the debate, the motion was ammended to remove any references to “German” or “Germany”, following a request by representatives from St Catherine’s JCR. Meanwhile, another proposed amendment calling for the motion to be changed from Free Education as a policy to “Free Education campaigns” was rejected with four votes in favour, six abstentions and 60 against, following claims that the amendment was contrary to the spirit of the motion.
OUSU President Louis Trup remarked, “Everyone at OUSU was really happy to see common rooms and OUSU Council engaged in a crucial debate that affects us all. Free education is now OUSU’s stance and all our elected officers are bound to it. OUSU will now join with other supporters of Free Education at a national level, most notably at the demonstration on the 19th November to which OUSU is subsidising transport.”
James Elliott said, “I’m delighted that OUSU has adopted free education as policy. The task is now for OUSU to mobilise the student body for the national campaign and get people to London on November the 19th.”
In all, 15 colleges voted to support the motion before OUSU Council commenced while St John’s, Jesus, Magdalen, Brasenose and Keble voted against it.