Ultimately, Oxford’s biggest problem is accessibility.
As a university, and as a student union, access is something that we have been striving to perfect for years, and every new intake has been improved and made more diverse by the new access initiatives that have been put in place. However, accessibility is still an issue which OUSU and the University find difficult to come to terms with and address.
I came from a state school which could not have been more supportive of my educational aspirations, yet I still found it difficult to understand and adapt to what Oxford expected of me. For those who weren’t as fortunate, OUSU needs to be doing more.
Access work achieves nothing if a potential student cannot risk applying to one of the wealthiest universities in the country, just because they are allocated to a college that cannot cover their financial needs. There are many centralised support systems, bursaries, scholarships and so on, but the fact of the matter is that the college a student is a member of can affect their financial health dramatically. It is a very different prospect, for example, to be a member of a college that gives hundreds of pounds every term for “books”, to being a member of one which “doesn’t have enough money” for a college nurse.
However, the inequalities and the insensitivities present here are not just financial. In a student population of over 22,000, the potential for diversity of background and experience is astounding. This should be something we take pride in, it should be the natural state, and this can only happen when that diversity is supported. At the moment, it feels like the way we’re dealing with this is by shoving square pegs in round holes, hoping to file down the edges. I’d like to be creating square holes.
This is why I am excited to be in the running to work with the various OUSU campaigns and groups. They do such an important job, allowing students to explore the university without feeling that they do so at their own risk, whether that is intellectual or physical. I want to work alongside the Liberation Campaigns, supporting them and learning from them. I want to work alongside Mind Your Head, giving them a bigger platform than they currently have, and raising awareness in common rooms.
A tutor once told a friend of mine that the reason we are here is because we are “more sensitive than others” – whether that’s sensitive to nuance in a text, and obscure metaphor, or whether it’s to extraneous circumstances and the stresses associated with a high-pressure life. Becky Howe’s recent article needs to be read. We need a welfare system that reflects the difficulties people find at Oxford.
If the people who are sensitive to nuance are being pushed away from developing it because there’s no one on the other end to support their other ‘sensitivities’, what is Oxford doing? The main point of my manifesto is the Minimum Expectations Charter – a document outlining what every student should be entitled to from their time here, this would form part of a long-term lobbying strategy for your Student Union to use in its negotiations with the University; I can’t think of a better way to ensure that every student has a minimum standard of care and support.
This is why my team chose the name “For Oxford”. Because much like with a JCR, Oxford is composed of its people and structures. If Oxford, the people, are getting the support they need, then Oxford, the structures, can only be the better for it.