OUSU council has voted down a motion to withdraw support for a demonstration in favour of Free Education that is due to take place next week. Proposed by OUSU President Louis Trup, in his capacity as Chair of the Trustee Board, and Christina Toenshoff, Deputy Chair of the Trustee Board, the motion was overwhelmingly rejected, with five votes in favour and 57 against, with 12 abstentions.
OUSU Council first voted to provide transportation funding to the Free Education demonstration in 1st Week, and then voted to adopt Free Education as a national policy in 3rd Week. Last week it was forced to reconsider its support for the demonstration, following an announcement by NUS UK it would be withdrawing its support for the protest due to concerns about accessibility and safety.
OUSU Chief Executive Officer Amelia Foster, who is trained in risk assessment, raised a number of concerns in the motion regarding the demonstration, commenting, “I would require evidence that the number of stewards will be as described in the risk assessment (and I note that this is proving problematic); details of contractors and their risk assessments; a list of which roads will be closed and confirmation that St Johns are indeed providing first aid.
“The risk assessment as issued by the demonstration organisers reads like a provisional risk assessment, not one that is ready for an imminent event with thousands of attendees. I am very concerned by this and would also like the organisers to have public liability insurance.”
Due to the 1994 Education Act, the members of the Trustee Board and the Chief Executive Officer are personally liable in the event of an incident. OUSU’s public liability insurance will only cover students before and after the demonstration, not at the protest itself.
Despite the failure of the motion and since it is a safety issue whether OUSU supports the demonstration, the Trustee Board has maintained the ability to withdraw support for the protest, if further safety and access issues arise.
OUSU Disabled Students’ Officer and campaigner for Free Education James Elliott commented, “I was pleased that Council re-affirmed its support, and I hope the Trustee Board takes this as a firm statement that Council doesn’t take kindly to interferences from the board. The job is now to ensure the coaches are filled, and that accessibility information is widely circulated so students can make the best decision for themselves on whether or not to attend. See you on the streets!”
OUSU President Louis Trup told Cherwell, “I brought an emergency motion to withdraw OUSU’s support for the Free Education demo because the OUSU Trustee Board (which I chair) wanted Council to make sure it was aware of the risks highlighted by the NUS.
“The trustees have a legal obligation to make sure OUSU activities are safe so given CVouncil’s failing of this motion, we will work to ensure that all students who attend are safe. The more substantial issue for students is around accessibility. Council has declared it is happy with the accessibility of the demo for all attending, but we will continue to make sure this is the case at the demo.”