Tommy Robinson cancels Union talk after prison recall

Tommy Robinson, founder and former leader of the English Defence League (EDL), has been recalled to prison and will not give a scheduled talk at the Oxford Union on Thursday 23rd October.

Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley Lennon, was jailed in January for 18 months for mortgage fraud but released in June. Robinson’s Facebook page states he “has been recalled back to Prison for responding to a threatening [tweet] […] in breach of his Licence conditions”.

An email from the Oxford Union to its members on 20th October confirmed that Robinson will not speak on 23rd October but, “having spoken to his lawyers” they “still hope to host Mr Robinson […] later this term”. The Union hope Robinson will appear after his recall, which they say is fixed at 28 days.

Claims have been made on Robinson’s Facebook page of a police cover-up. A post, apparently from his assistant Helen ‘Hel’ Gower, alleges that he has been recalled to prison due to the fact that the police “didn’t want him to speak at the Union […] because he was about to reveal some of their little secrets”.

An image reportedly of a text message written by Robinson shows him saying he was due to reveal “police persecution […] including bribery and blackmail” and claiming his return to prison is “to prevent [him] exposing the facts on Thursday at the Oxford Union”.

When approached for comment, Gower, who currently has control of Robinson’s Facebook and Twitter pages, confirmed that Robinson will not attend the Union.

She also stated her belief that his recall was due to Robinson “challenging Bedfordshire Police about their lack of action over all the threats […] on Twitter against him and his family,” labelling the recall an “excuse to stop Tommy attending [the Union]”. 

Bedfordshire police declined to comment on Robinson’s and Gower’s claims.

Robinson’s appearance was controversial in Oxford: Oxford Unite Against Fascism (OUAF) had written an open letter calling on the Union to withdraw his invitation. They were also organising a protest outside the Union which was scheduled to coincide with Robinson’s talk.

In the open letter, published online, OUAF criticised the Union for “contributing to a climate of Islamaphobia”.

Mayank Banerjee, President of the Oxford Union, defended the move to invite Robinson: “The Union stands by the invitation to Mr Robinson and we would like to reiterate that an invitation from the Union is not an endorsement of any particular agenda.

“The Union believes in the principle of freedom of speech and we would encourage all members who disagree with Mr Robinson to question him on his views at the event later in the term.”

While he was leader of the EDL, Robinson “organised and lead [sic] violent racist demonstrations and waged a campaign of demonisation of Muslims”, OUAF claims. Although he is no longer involved with the EDL, OUAF say he “continues to incite racial hatred against Muslims”.

The open letter had received support from Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), who signed OUAF’s letter according to the Unite Against Fascism campaign’s Facebook page. The CWU is the major trade union for those working in the communications industry and Hayes therefore represents over 200,000 people.

Robinson left the EDL in 2013 and now collaborates with Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank. However, when contacted, OUAF said they “do not believe that Robinson has changed his fascist views” and “remain opposed to any future invite”.

hiv ribbon

Oxford scientists trace HIV origin

Oxford University scientists have pinpointed the origin of the HIV strain that accounts for the current global pandemic as being Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The project, a report of which was published in the leading journal Science was a collaboration between scientists at Oxford and at the University of Leuven in Belgium traced the genetic history of the HIV group M strain which originated in approximately 1920 and was transmitted from a primate to a human.

The pandemic has infected over 75 million people worldwide to date. While the Kinshasa transmission was not the first case of human infection or transmission, it was the infection that was responsible for the spread of HIV throughout Africa, and later the world.

Professor Oliver Pybus of the University’s Department of Zoology stated “It seems a combination of factors in Kinshasa in the early 20th Century created a ‘perfect storm’ for the emergence of HIV, leading to a generalised epidemic with unstoppable momentum that unrolled across sub-Saharan Africa.”

Dr Nunio Fara also of the Department of Zoology described the virus’s progression across Africa, saying ‘Our genetic data tells us that HIV very quickly spread across the Democratic Republic of the Congo, travelling with people along railways and waterways to reach Mbuji-Mayi and Lubumbashi in the extreme South and Kisangani in the far North by the end of the 1930s and early 1950s.

“This helped establishing early secondary foci of HIV-1 transmission in regions that were well connected to southern and eastern African countries. We think it is likely that the social changes around the independence in 1960 saw the virus ‘break out’ from small groups of infected people to infect the wider population and eventually the world.’

The team stated that much more research needed to be done on the role played by social factors in the spread of the disease throughout Africa.

The Values behind Market Capitalism - Tony Blair

Sabs clash over Tony Blair LGBTQ accolade

OUSU VP for Welfare Chris Pike has slammed ex-OUSU President Tom Rutland for ‘erasing’ trans and disabled voices in a debate over Tony Blair’s gay rights legacy.

Chris Pike, OUSU’s VP (Welfare and Equal Opportunities) and Tom Rutland, last year’s OUSU President, engaged in a heated discussion on Facebook following a disagreement in the No Heterox** group, with Rutland dismissing Pike’s arguments as “complete bollocks”.

Pike hit back, suggesting that Rutland could only speak for “middle-class white able cis gay men” and not the entire LGBTQ movement.

The dispute centred on the listing of former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair as “top gay icon of the last 30 years” by Gay Times. Blair featured on a list of ‘gay icons’ from the past three decades including Boy George and Sir Ian McKellan, in honour of the pro-LGBTQ rights policies pursued by his government, including the introduction of civil partnerships and the repeal of Section 28.

When posted on No Heterox**, a popular discussion group for Oxford’s queer and trans community, the decision drew ridicule, with OU LGBTQ Society Publicity Rep Jessy Parker Humphreys labelling it “so so so infuriating/ridiculous”. Rutland, a prominent former member of the Oxford University Labour Club, waded in to the discussion to defend Blair’s legacy on gay rights.

When Helena Dollimore, an active member of OULC and Vice Chair Policy for Young Labour, posted an infographic on Rutland’s wall which listed advances in gay rights under Blair’s government, Pike argued that “the actions of Blair on the whole were not conducive to queer liberation,” while also stating that he was “quite uncomfortable with the fact that this was originally posted by someone who isn’t queer”.

The political debate soon became personal, with Rutland telling Pike to “stop bashing Helena” and that “if it makes you uncomfortable you need a much better cushion on your chair”.

When contacted by The OxStu, Tony Blair’s office declined to comment.

Oxford's Radcliffe Square

Oxford ‘myths’ discourage state school applicants

Intelligent state school pupils are being discouraged from applying to Oxford by their teachers, a recent report by the Sutton Trust claims.

The research argued that “myths” such as Oxford being full of overly posh people or “toffs” prevented teachers from recommending applications to Oxbridge.

The Sutton Trust claims that 40 per cent of teachers “rarely or never” suggest that academically gifted pupils apply to either Oxford or Cambridge. The research also showed that many teachers significantly underestimate the chances of state school students being accepted. 

60 per cent of teachers surveyed believed that the majority of Oxbridge students were privately educated and 25 per cent believed that 8 in 10 Oxbridge students were from private schools. In reality, 2013 figures show that 56.8 per cent of Oxford undergraduates are from the state sector, and private school students are actually in the minority. 

Only 9 per cent of teachers came close to the correct number.  

An Oxford University spokesperson responded to the report, saying: “The findings about teachers’ perceptions are frustrating, not only because state students are in the majority at Oxford (56.8 percent), but because of all the outreach work we do in state schools. We holding well over 2,000 events and spending millions on activities every year. Sadly, just one negative or stereotyped headline in the media can unravel that work in an instant, which teachers are not to blame for.”

“Teachers play a vital role in getting students to aim for Oxford and so we naturally do a lot of work with them. We send out a regular e-newsletter with the latest information about the Oxford application process. Every year our Vice-Chancellor gives out Inspirational Teachers awards to state teachers who have supported a student through the application process and been nominated by that student for recognition.

“These findings make us more determined than ever to continue our work with teachers. Misperceptions of Oxford, partly informed by the media, are a hurdle we shall overcome,” they added.

James Blythe, OUSU VP for Access and Academic Affairs, commented: “One of the biggest challenges for increasing the percentage of successful applicants from low socio-economic backgrounds and other access priority groups is attainment at GCSE.”

“I want Oxford’s students, through OUSU and the NUS, to be part of a national student movement that campaigns and lobbies the government to do more to support schools and families in improving performance at GCSE. Schools already do incredible work but they need more support.”

A Magdalen medic said: “An Oxford filled with braying toffs is not an Oxford that I recognise. It’s a real shame that these misconceptions are putting clever kids off applying.”

The Sutton Trust has launched a summer school program for teachers to attempt to combat “Oxbridge myths”. James Turner, Director of Programmes at the Sutton Trust, said: “We all know how important teachers are in guiding their students’ choices about where to go to university.”

“As our polling shows, too few state school teachers consider Oxbridge as a realistic possibility for their brightest pupils. They might not think the students will get in to the universities, or fit in once there, or they may lack the specialist knowledge to prepare their students for the application process. We hope our teacher summer schools will begin to change that.”

Philip Pullman

Pullman lambasts University over fees

Philip Pullman has strongly criticised university fees after contributing to a prospective student’s crowdfunding project to fund her postgraduate studies at Wadham. 

The author of the His Dark Materials trilogy made a “generous” donation to the crowdfunding project of Emily-Rose Eastop, who begins her Masters this year studying cognitive and evolutionary anthropology. 

Pullman, an alumnus of Exeter College, said “she wrote an interesting letter and I decided to give. I don’t give to everybody who asks, but she made a good case.”

Pullman said: “Some people have got money for university and other people haven’t. It’s an unjust system – when I went to university we didn’t have to pay at all. Now people can’t go at all unless they can acquire some money. I don’t think students should have to pay. It should be free. It’s absurd and criminal when everything’s got to make money. Everything is being privatised and monetised. It’s a dreadful system and a deplorable way to run the country. I’m against it in any way possible.” 

Eastop, who graduated from Magdalen College in 2010, used the crowdfunding website Hubbub to raise the £26,000 necessary for her course. She said of Pullman’s donation, “It wasn’t crazy but it wasn’t a token amount either. It was generous.” Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker and cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter also made donations to the cause. 

Eastop criticized the lack of funding available to postgraduate students. She said, “I did apply for a grant but didn’t get one. They [Wadham College] said they had nine times more applicants than they could fund.”

Her Hubbub page appeared in the Telegraph and the Daily Mail, and her YouTube appeal, ‘Get ‘ER to Oxford’, currently has over 32,000 views. She told BBC Newsbeat after reaching her target, saying “I’m absolutely over the moon. I’m so encouraged and so inspired by what we can do when we get together.”

She has pledged to keep her backers informed about her studies through a private blog, saying “The idea is that you do the masters with me. I will publish easily digestible summaries of all the essays I write, interesting ideas from lectures I have been to, cool quotes from books I’m reading and people I have spoken to and anything I think you might find thought provoking or entertaining.”

A spokesperson for the University Press office, commented on the state of postgraduate funding, saying “Fundraising for postgraduate scholarships is one of the University’s key priorities and this year over 1,000 fully-funded scholarships were available from the University, its colleges and supporters for new master’s and doctoral students in 2014-15, which puts us in a very fortunate position compared to our UK peers.”

“But for the many aspiring graduate students who do not receive scholarships, it can be very difficult to find the money for their studies and we hope that more can be done at a national level to ensure post-graduate study is open to all.”

Prince William

Duke of Cambridge opens Oxford China Centre

Prince William paid a visit to Oxford on the 8th of September to formally open the Dickson Poon University of Oxford China Centre building.

The ceremony took place hours after an announcement from Kensington Palace that the Duchess of Cambridge is expecting her second child. She was unable to attend due to acute morning sickness.

Prince William met with students, members of staff, and friends of St. Hugh’s, as well as the donors and architects behind the project, before being given a tour of the new building. He also took part in the traditional Chinese ribbon cutting ceremony to officially open the centre, before a plaque was unveiled bearing the names of the Duke and Duchess. 

The building, situated in the grounds of St. Hugh’s College, cost a total of £21m to build, £10m of which was donated by Mr Dickson Poon CBE, after whom the building is named. It features a one-hundred seat lecture theatre, dining area and a range of conference and seminar facilities, as well as 63 ensuite bedrooms for the use of St Hugh’s students. Also included is a library set to house books from the Bodleian Library’s China Collection.

Prince William said at opening: “’The China Centre is an enormous achievement. It stands on the foundations of many centuries of learning in the University of Oxford about China, and it marks a significant leap forward.

“The strength and creativity of the partnership between the University and St Hugh’s provides a solid foundation for the creation of what has the potential to become the foremost place of study about China in the world.”

“Learning from and learning about China has never been more important than it is now. China is one of the world’s oldest civilisations. Its long history, customs and artistic and technological ingenuity have endured as a source of fascination and wonder in the world. 

The globalised world that we inhabit and that we have both helped forge, underscores the importance of deepening our knowledge and appreciation of one another. In an ever turbulent and changing world, the dialogue that academia can foster is not merely a nice-to-have it is a pillar that supports peace and prosperity.”

Mr Dickson Poon added, “I believe China will become an even more significant world force this century, requiring a deeper understanding by the West. Oxford already has a proud history in the study of China, and I was delighted to make this gift to help advance knowledge, collaboration and understanding in all aspects of Chinese culture.”

One St. Hugh’s second year student commented, “Ohmygod, [sic] Prince William is ridic [sic] handsome in the flesh. Also, I better be getting one of those new ensuite bedrooms.”

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