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Students vote overwhelmingly to retain subfusc

Students have voted overwhelmingly in favour of keeping subfusc, with 75.8 per cent opting to keep the dress code compulsory for examinations. A similar margin of students chose to keep mortarboards and gowns mandatory too, with 78 per cent voting in favour.

Marking the highest ever turnout in the student union’s history, 8,671 students voted out of a student population of 21,345 meaning 40.6 per cent of students voted.

A total of 6,403 people voted to keep subfusc, 2,040 voted against and 103 abstained. 6,242 voted to keep gowns and mortarboards, with 1,759 voting against and 128 abstaining.

In a tighter result, the question of whether to move OUSU Statutory Elections from Michaelmas to Hilary Term saw 2,445 votes in favour and 1,455 voting against. However, a large proportion of voters (3,986) abstained. The Returning Officer confirmed to Cherwell that the elections will now move to Hilary, as abstentions do not count as votes in OUSU referenda. 

The referendum, called by OUSU, ran from 8am on Wednesday to 6pm this evening and asked students whether or not subfusc should be required for University Examinations. In a separate question, students were asked whether gowns and mortarboards should be required for exams too.

Subfusc has been a longstanding tradition at Oxford University and is currently required to be worn at matriculation, University Examinations and graduation. It consists of a dark suit, skirt or trousers, a white shirt or blouse, black shoes and a bow tie or ribbon. A referendum on subfusc in Oxford was last held in 2006 in which 81 per cent of the4,382 voters chose to keep the full academic dress.

The debate surrounding the motion focussed on several issues including access, comfort, and gender. Campaigners arguing for the ‘No’ campaign had labelled it restrictive and elitist, focussing on the compulsory nature of the dress code. Members of the ‘Yes’ campaign on the other hand had argued it promoted a community spirit and ‘levelled the playing field’.

Harrison Edmonds, leader of the Save Subfusc campaign, hailed the significance of the referendum result. “The issue has been put to bed for the foreseeable future. I think the high turnout shows that this is an issue many Oxford students care heavily about. It has also vindicated my belief that subfusc is egalitarian and a great unifier.

“I think that there are valid concerns that have been raised over negotiating with the proctors and the rules of what constitutes subfusc, and I hope to help get OUSU more involved in rectifying those concerns.”

Writing on their Facebook campaign page, Subfusc OFF commented, “We at Subfusc OFF are of course very disappointed by tonight’s result. However, we want to say thank you to everyone who has contributed to the debate.

We still believe that the arguments for making subfusc optional hold and we hope that more people’s minds will change over the coming years. To all those that voted to make subfusc optional, thank you for your support. We also wish all those who are currently sitting their exams the very best of luck.”

Returning Officer Joe Smith commented, “I’m really pleased with the engagement in the referenda. This is the highest turnout for any English university student union on record, which is astounding!

“Congrats to the Campaign Leaders and OUSU for getting such a high turnout. I hope this engagement will be carried on and I’m pleased to say these elections were carried out fairly, democratically and properly, which is always nice to see in a Trinity term referendum!”

OUSU President Louis Trup told Cherwell, “It’s amazing that there has been such a high turnout in these referenda. It shows that students care about how Oxford works and will be vocal on the issues they care about. This means that OUSU needs to keep asking questions that interest people and then campaigning for the changes wanted.

“I hope students are taking a greater interest in OUSU and remember that it is here for whenever you want something in Oxford to change.”

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