Oxford University has voted to disaffiliate from the National Union of Students, with a margin of just 128 votes.
The outcome, which was announced outside the King’s Arms at 7.30pm on Wednesday evening, means that OUSU joins the student unions of St Andrew’s, Imperial College London and Southampton, among others, in being non-affiliated with the National Union of Students.
The turnout for the referendum was 15.1% – 3464 votes. The Yes campaign received 1652 votes, while No received 1780. There were 32 abstentions.
Jack Matthews, who led the successful “Believe in Oxford” campaign, said: “I am delighted that Oxford has had the courage to stand up against the NUS and demand change.”
He expressed his hope for other Student Unions to “follow our lead and join the movement to bring about the NUS students truly deserve.”
Meanwhile, OUSU President Tom Rutland said he was “disappointed by the result”.
“I’m concerned about the impact it will have on OUSU and Oxford students. My time at OUSU has shown me that NUS membership is a real lifeline both for our elected officers and our student body”, he continued.
Rutland had headed the campaign in support of re-affiliation with the NUS.
He was keen for OUSU to reaffiliate soon. “Students are stronger when they work together – be it at a common room, university or national level – so I hope that OUSU will reaffiliate to NUS in the near future”.
However, an anonymous Wadhamite criticised OUSU’s relationship to the NUS: “OUSU is redundant to Oxford students. We are very fortunate with our University and College welfare provision – nothing can surpass that. OUSU representatives have very little business or impact on our livesand so resort to delivering a heavily biased left-wing agenda to the NUS.”
A precedent for disaffiliation followed by reaffiliation has been set by Durham Students’ Union, who voted to disaffiliate in March 2010 but affiliated the following year.
Rutland’s imminent successor as President, Louis Trup, pointed out that non-affiliation “gives a lot of people, especially those working in campaigns, a harder job”.
He did, however, argue that “OUSU is up to the challenge”.
“The people you have elected to serve in OUSU will still work hard for every Oxford student and we as a student body will have to step up and prove that we can go it alone”.
Nathan Akehurst, who attended the NUS conference, condemned the result:”It’s disappointing that we have lost our voice in the national student movement, and now have to face attacks on higher education alone, and lose the everyday support that NUS offers to ordinary students.
“However whilst I disagree with the result, it does demonstrate an NUS in crisis that is losing its members’ confidence. It is my fond hope that NUS can be fixed, and also that Oxford will develop links with other unions and coordinate nationally independently.”
“No” campaign leader Matthews, who has attended the NUS conference four times and been involved with OUSU since 2008, thanked all those who supported campaign against re-affiliation.
“This was a grassroots campaign, and we couldn’t have achieved this amazing result without you – you’re all awesome.”
The “Believe in Oxford” campaign has been managed by Eleanor Sharman, who also proposed a successful motion at Oriel to disaffiliate from OUSU. She praised the efforts of her team in their “no” victory: “I feel so proud of Oxford for standing up and making its voice known. The “yes” team were dedicated and passionate, and deserved to do well.
“But all of us have an exciting time in front of us: we can make our own choices again, and we’ve got extra income to invest in those who need it most. I cannot wait to see where Oxford is headed.”
Oliver Carroll, a second year at St Anne’s, voted against reaffiliation. He stated: “Its own President didn’t even go to university. I don’t want to associate myself with an organisation which claims, but fails, to represent ordinary students, and is no more than a training ground for wannabe future Labour MPs.”
Carroll’s sentiment was reinforced by Michael Young, a student at Brasenose who voted against reaffilliation. He explained his decision: “I voted no because the NUS has repeatedly demonstrated that it doesn’t represent me or most ordinary students. OUSU is more than capable of acting on behalf of students in Oxford and voting no has encouraged NUS to become more representative in the future.”