Students wore red ribbons and squares at the University matriculation ceremony this Saturday, in support of what campaigners describe as “a free and decolonised education”. The campaign, styling itself as ‘matriculACTION’, was organised by a new collaboration between the Free Education Oxford and Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford groups, in an attempt to “demonstrate that the growing neoliberalisation and coloniality of the university are connected”.
Red ribbons and squares, as well as leaflets, were handed out to students outside the ceremony, as campaigners also staged a decolonisation protest under the Bridge of Sighs.
Lily MacTaggart, a campaigner with Free Education Oxford, said its purpose was to “call for free education and get people involved in our campaign”. She highlighted Oxford University’s decision to implement higher fees as one of the key points of issue, calling it “awful for access, as lower income students will be less ambitious with their applications”.
In September, Oxford University announced that undergraduate tuition fees would rise for current students to £9,250 in September 2017, up from the £9,000 cap set by the government in 2012. The government is expected to begin to enforce the new cap later this year.
Wadham fresher Rachel Collett, who wore a red square and ribbon, said, “any rise in fees can really put off students from underprivileged backgrounds, as they think an Oxford education is too expensive for them.”
A spokesperson for Rhodes Must Fall told Cherwell that “free education is instrumental to decolonisation. Increased reliance on donorship and private sponsorship limits democratic engagement, Oriel being a key example of this.”
The fusion of RMF and Free Education led to some controversy. Michael Kurtz, who wore a red square, told Cherwell, “I resent the fact that they amalgamated the two causes”. Also, red goes really badly with subfusc.”
Fresher Vida Adamczewski said she wore a red ribbon to protest that “Oxford doesn’t recognise its colonial history and should do more to promote diversity in the syllabus and student body.”
A University spokesperson said, ‘We expect our students to hold us to account and work towards a more diverse Oxford, and we are working across the university with them to improve Oxford’s diversity and ensure that the experiences of all students are represented and respected at Oxford. We are actively discussing with our students what more can be done to ensure a fully inclusive university experience.’
At a meeting organised by Free Education Oxford on Wednesday evening, OUSU VP for Academic Affairs, Eden Bailey, accused the university of “deception and confusion” in its dealings with student representatives, while members of the group encouraged “direct action” in the coming year to combat the “neoliberal wet dream” of the implementation of the government’s TEF policy and fee increases. Free Education Oxford told Cherwell that, “in our view a truly Free Education can only be a decolonised and anti-racist education”, citing the Fees Must Fall campaign in South Africa as evidence of the “intersection between the two issues…which has been incredibly successful.”