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By Jonathan Mayo
OUSU has successfully negotiated an agreement with Sky Business that will save common rooms across the University an estimate of over £300,000 in total, compared to the commercial rate of Sky TV subscription.
This successful agreement, which will see colleges charged the charity rate of £1000 per year for Sky TV packages, as opposed to the full commercial rate of £6000 per year, was backed by nine college common rooms which implemented motions during Michaelmas Term to boycott Sky TV until a fair deal was agreed upon.
The drive to secure charity status across the university was led by OUSU Common Room Support Officer, James Raynor, who recognised that an irregular and unfair system had prevailed for several years whereby some common rooms were being charged the charity rate whereas others were charged the full commercial rate, on an essentially random basis.
Raynor commented: “I’d been trying to solve this problem for the duration of my time at OUSU; and as my term as Common Room Support Officer was drawing to an end we made the decision to step things up a little. Through OUSU support structures I was able to assemble a boycott which gave us the leverage to contact some senior figures at Sky – this meant we could finally open up a constructive dialogue.”
The boycott vouched that the common rooms would cancel their existing subscription or forebear from obtaining a subscription until all common rooms were given the charity rate.
St Hugh’s, one of the nine colleges that participated in the boycott, voted in favour of using an alternative service to Sky after a lengthy JCR meeting in 5th week of Michaelmas.
Sara Polakava, St Hugh’s JCR President, commented: “After a two-hour JCR meeting in 5th week, we managed to convince the JCR to vote for the cancellation and boycott of Sky starting with the Christmas Vacation and replacing Sky with an alternative service that is not as outrageously priced and gives us much better value for money.”
St Hugh’s JCR also secured the support of their Domestic Bursar, Vicki Stott, who was passionate enough about the campaign to suggest that nation-wide media could be involved in publicising the proposed boycott.
This positive response encouraged OUSU to mobilise Domestic Bursars from other colleges to stand behind their common rooms engaged in the boycott. Polakava said that this move “gave our cause yet more support which we needed”.
Benjamin Clayton, Exeter’s JCR President, stated: “The JCR Presidents have been working together with OUSU for years with the aim of procuring the rightful charity Sky levy for our common rooms. Our argument has been justified and this year we put it forward with passionate force.”
Subsequently, on behalf of OUSU and the other boycott parties, James Raynor wrote a successful letter to Sky to propose an arrangement in which all common rooms will have access to the charity rate provided that they aren’t making money out of Sky, such as by showing it in a bar.
The charity rate shall be granted to the Colleges directly, which are all registered charities.
In response to the successful negotiation, Raynor said: “Getting the result we wanted and saving hundreds of thousands of pounds for Oxford colleges was really fantastic news. It felt especially good considering how long this has been on the agenda for common rooms. I’d like to thank the common room presidents and bursars in particular for their help.”
The response amongst common rooms has been one of satisfaction and delight. Clayton, on behalf of his JCR, commented: “Exeter JCR is delighted to have saved a significant amount of money, and I believe that this success has shown what Oxford’s JCRs can do when we come together in pursuit of a common cause.”
This sentiment was echoed by Jahnavi Emmanuel, the SU President of Wadham, who said: “We’re delighted that this has been successful and that Sky are now granting us the charity rate which we rightly qualify for, so we will be renewing our subscription from next month.”
David Townsend, OUSU President, was also impressed by the achievement: “The question of whether common rooms should be paying the charity or the commercial rate for Sky has been going round and round for donkey’s years. It was old news back when I started as a common room president – and that’s saying something!”
“I’m proud that James has worked with common rooms and Colleges to build and deploy this boycott,” he continued, “and that we’ve achieved such a massive saving across the University.
“This is proof that OUSU can do what no individual common room can do on its own: deliver a huge win for everyone. OUSU has solved in about 10 days a problem that has been going back and forth for the best part of 10 years.”
Sara Polakova expressed a similar satisfaction: “My great thanks goes to James Raynor who was phenomenally efficient and worked with common room Presidents to bring this almost decade-lasting stalemate to a close.”