Student protest at the University of Vienna, October 2009

JCRs unite as ‘Free Education’ fever sweeps across Oxford

Thirteen JCRs have passed motions supporting next month’s National Union of Students demonstration on free education, ahead of an OUSU vote on the policy.

The draft motion, which was passed in various forms at several JCRs, committed the common rooms to ‘support free education as a policy and the NUS campaign against fees and debt,’ as well as ‘to support the national demonstration for free education, and pass £50 [or another amount] from the motions budget to help subsidise coaches to London for the national demonstration.’

The NUS demonstration, which will take place under the banner of ‘Free Education: No fees. No cuts. No debt,’ is being held in protest against the coalition government’s higher education policies, including the privatisation of the Student Loans Company and the tripling of tuition fees to £9,000. The demonstration is backed by a coalition of activist groups including the Student Assembly Against Austerity, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, and the Young Greens, and will follow a trade union demonstration on the 18th.

James Elliot, a second year historian at Teddy Hall who drafted the original motion, said: “I’m delighted so many JCRs have taken the time this weekend to discuss free education, and that the majority of them have sided with me in the belief education is a right that should be accessible to all, through the abolition of fees. I hope the motion passes through Council on Wednesday, and that we get mobilising students for the 19th of November demonstration.”

Not all colleges at which motions were brought passed them, however. Keble JCR voted the motion down, while St Johns opted to vote against the policy of free education while still pledging £75 to subsidise coaches to London.

The monetary contribution from each college will vary. Wadham SU has pledged £200 for coaches to the demo, four times as much as the standard pledge of £50 and twice as much as Balliol’s pledge of £100.

Wadham’s support, the result of a unanimous vote, represents a resounding response to claims that the college no longer holds the “crown of radicalism,” in particular the claim of Balliol JCR member Xavier Cohen that “Wadham might talk the talk much better than Balliol, it appears that Balliol are the ones walking the walk.”

Aliya Yule, the Wadham student who proposed the SU motion on Sunday, told the OxStu: “The free education motion passed with unanimous support at Wadham; all five of Wadham SU’s voting cards will be supporting the motion when it goes to OUSU Council on Wednesday, and we have pledged £200 to fund coaches taking students to the demonstration on the 19th November.

“We discussed how important it is as a political message for common rooms to take a stand on the issue of free education in order to show that students will not tolerate the commodification of higher education. That there were no objections to the motion shows that Wadham is fully committed to promoting and supporting this policy.”

An OUSU Council motion on adopting free education as a policy was debated yesterday, but at time of writing the result of the vote was not available. This follows OUSU Council’s vote two weeks ago on whether to fund coaches to the demonstration, which passed despite controversy over correct procedure.

JCRs voting ‘For’ Free Education Motion:

  • Balliol
  • Hertford
  • Harris Manchester
  • Regent’s Park
  • St Hilda’s
  • Wadham
  • St Anne’s
  • Queen’s
  • Somerville
  • Univ
  • St Peter’s
  • Exeter
  •  Trinity

JCRs voting ‘Against’ Free Education Motion:

  • Keble
  • Magdalen
  • Brasenose
  • St John’s*

*Whilst St John’s voted against the policy of free education, they pledged £75 to pay for coaches.


Fire in Magdalen thought to be accident

A fire broke out in the Magdalen JCR games room on the evening of the 22nd October, prompting college authorities to threaten to close the room. While it was originally suspected that the fire was deliberately started, the Magdalen Dean has since emailed the JCR stating: “As far as we can tell this was an accident. Someone left a table tennis bat on top of a standing light, in contact with the light bulb. The light was subsequently turned on with the bulb burning the plastic on the bat.”


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Tight deadline causes panic due to incorrect email

New College has been forced to apologise to students who were sent an email that gave them less than half an hour to submit entry examination details.

Rebekah Unwin, the college’s senior academic administrator, told students on 24th October that the deadline for entries was that day. In an email sent to all undergraduates sitting examinations this academic year, she wrote: “Later this afternoon an examination entry form will be in your pidge.  Please complete and return to me in the Tuition Office by 3.30pm on Friday 24th of October.” The email was sent at 2.53pm.

Unwin told The Oxford Student this week it had been a mistake, explaining: “It was human error – my error! I meant to say the deadline was on 31st Oct but accidentally put 24th Oct, the same day I sent the email.

“As soon as I realised I had made an error – about half an hour later when students started emailing me to query the deadline – I immediately sent out an apology with the correct deadline,” she said.

Core examinations do not require exam entry forms but students sitting modules which are not compulsory must sign the forms which are given to them by their college. The deadline varies from subject to subject, but in all cases late entries incur a fine from the University of £40.

The email panicked a couple of students into sending their entries within the 30 minute deadline but most were reassured to find that it was a mistake.

From January, the University is altering the way the examination entry process works, and the proposed system shoud limit the potential for mistakes such as this to be made in future. Instead of submitting forms via college, students will be able to apply online using the Student Self Service, the system used for university registration.

Oxford's Radcliffe Square

Stats show Oxford attracting record numbers of applicants

Oxford University received a record number of applications this year, whilst demand for Cambridge places dropped after a rise in entry requirements.

Oxford saw 18,325 students apply for places this year, competing for around 3,100 places. Cambridge declined to publish its application numbers this year but last year some 16,720 applications were made for around 3,300 places.

The Oxford application figures represent a record high, with overall demand increasing by five per cent compared to last year. Cambridge, by contrast, stated that it was “not expecting” an increase on last year’s numbers.

This follows Cambridge’s decision to increase its entry requirements this year, with almost half of courses asking for two A*s and an A grade as a minimum at A level. All science, maths and medicine courses at Cambridge now make such requirements. Biology, chemistry, physics, medicine, veterinary medicine, maths, computer science, genetics, psychology, zoology and engineering courses now ask their applicants to achieve at least A*A*A. Only three courses at Oxford have such high entry requirements, maths, maths and philosophy, and maths and statistics. One A* is asked for by most science subjects but the very highest grade is not required for arts courses.

The increase in entry requirements represents Cambridge’s first wholesale increase since the introduction of the A* grade in 2010. However, Cambridge insisted that the raising requirements did not “raise the bar” because over 90 per cent of those who gain places on science courses already achieved at least two A*s at A-level, whilst most successful applicants get three A*s.

A spokesperson for Cambridge University said: “The university believes that the revised offer gives applicants a clearer indication of the level of attainment realistically required to compete for a place, and to thrive on science courses.”

Whilst Oxford entry requirements are lower, 36 out of 46 courses require applicants to sit an aptitude test, in order to compare students who apply with different sixth-form qualifications.

Concerning a possible rise in Oxford entry requirements, a University spokesperson stated: “Any decision to change conditional offer requirements is up to individual subjects, who carefully consider the impact such a change might have on the admissions process.

“Oxford University also uses subject-specific aptitude tests as a fair way of benchmarking the subject aptitude of all candidates, whether they take A levels or not.”

In a separate statement to the OxStu, the University stated: “Through our outreach activities Oxford aims to attract talented candidates from as wide a range of backgrounds and schools as possible. We are pleased that today’s figures suggest we are succeeding in encouraging more bright students than ever before to apply to Oxford.”

The Oxford Student

Oxford's Newspaper since 1991