An ode to the north

An ode to the north

Coming to university means broadening horizons, being introduced to new ideas and concepts, people and cultures. For a Londoner born and bred, one distinctive group I have had to come to grips with have been ‘Northerners’.

People from ‘The North’ are not just people from Northern England. In fact it seems as if this place of origin defines them far more than I thought was possible. Perhaps because they are in a minority, at least in my college, they seem to cling on to their culture and strange ways with such passion and enthusiasm.

This can be difficult for ‘Southerners’ to understand. However, there are ways to make them feel at ease. Any right minded person of course knows that Oxford is pretty far up North. However, they maintain that they have made a treacherous journey down South, having spent at least 3 hours on the Train. It is important to respect their confusion and lack of understanding of geography.

It is also important to respect that they do not understand meal times. Never ask a Northerner if they want to go out for dinner, because they will think you mean lunch. As well as not knowing when meal times are, not to mention thinking that tea is a meal and not of course a drink; meeting Northerners has brought my attention to weird food combinations. Never before had I considered putting gravy on chips, but I have to admit it is not a bad combination.

Equally, I have had to come to appreciate their dialect. Seemingly, once you reach a point past Nottingham there has been a decision made unbeknownst to the South to deem the article ‘the’ as surplus to the requirements of their vocabulary. This can cause some confusion but if you nod and smile at what they say then there is little that can go wrong. And if the word ‘the’ is the only word they have missed out in a sentence, then count yourself lucky.

Northerners definitely have a different biological make-up. Having come from extreme weather conditions, they manage to never have to pay for coat check in any club, and wear frighteningly little clothes be it December or July. In fact, this being my first year at Oxford, I have yet to see how Northerners react to summer. As you can imagine, I approach the summer months with some fear.

It confuses me that I have a Northern friend studying Economics and Management when collectively, Northerners seem to have no grasp of the value of money. Basic economic concepts such as supply and demand and inflation do not supersede their sheer horror at not being able to buy vodka shots for £1 and Kit- Kats for 50p.

Finally, and perhaps most harrowingly, Northerners have no concept of what is and is not socially acceptable. No topic of discussion is too much information, and a conversation with a Northerner can end up being an outpouring of information, talking at you about everything that crosses their mind. This is not limited to friends. Northerners think that it is ok to talk to strangers at bus stops and queues in clubs.

What is needed is a sociological and anthropological study to fully understand these quirks and traits. Only then can we fully understand what makes people from the North, ‘Northerners’.



St Giles bomb scare turns out to be a ‘bag full of paperwork’

St Giles bomb scare turns out to be a ‘bag full of paperwork’

St Giles’, Woodstock Road and Little Clarendon Street were closed on Tuesday morning following a potential bomb scare.

Buses and pedestrians were turned away, and shops and businesses on the roads, including Taylors, were evacuated for around 45 minutes while members of the police and army attempted to ascertain the extent of the threat.

A bomb disposal unit was called to the scene, centred on the Army Careers Office on Woodstock Road. A sniffer dog was seen outside of the office, and it is believed that a “suspicious package” was found outside.

One employee of the Careers Office was heard to remark that the package may have simply been “a bag full of paperwork”, following an x-ray by the bomb disposal unit.

All of the closed streets were reopened by 11:10.

One anonymous eyewitness said: “It was quite an inconvenience for people trying to get to their jobs and classes during the time. It seems a bit silly that a stray box of paperwork can cause them to shut down a whole street, but I guess better safe than sorry. I saw a couple of girls who couldn’t get into their class at the language centre; it must have been a pain for them”.

Several students were also affected by the road closure. One Regent’s Park student said: “I saw a Snapchat of the bomb scare – it was unnerving”.

A staff member of Taylor’s Deli on St Giles’ commented to The Oxford Mail: ““Last year we had the same thing when everyone was evacuated for six hours. Last year it was real but this time it was a fake. Maybe somebody just forgot their bag. It’s good they took it seriously – we don’t want to explode.”

This is not the first bomb scare to hit Oxford’s Army Careers Office. In February 2014, St Giles and the surrounding area were evacuated after Oxford’s Army Career Office was one of several to be targeted with packages containing “small, crude, but potentially viable devices”. Responsibility for this action was claimed by the New IRA, who said: “The IRA claims responsibility for the explosive devices that were sent to British armed forces recruitment centres in England. Attacks will continue when and where the IRA see fit.”


PHOTO: Cason Reily

Focus: Oxford hub: schools plus

Focus: Oxford hub: schools plus

Despite the obvious educational prestige associated with the city of Oxford, schools in our local area suffer from some of the lowest pupil attainment at GCSE level in the country – Oxford was ranked 320th out of 324 areas in England for this in 2012. This is inextricably linked to social and economic deprivation in the outer areas of the city, with pupils from lower income households in these areas (those on free school meals) performing below students from similar backgrounds across the country. This is a huge problem, not only because this is evidence that young people are being denied basic qualifications due to things they can’t control, but also because a lack of attainment at this level severely reduces the educational opportunities they have in the future. Significant numbers of young people in our city are leaving school not only with attending their local university a pipe dream, but with little hope of making it to university at all.

How can we help solve this problem? Of course, there is no one easy solution to the complex array of factors that contribute to the incredible amount of educational inequality that exists not only in our local area, but also in the UK as a whole as well as around the world. That doesn’t mean, though, that students can’t make a real difference, particularly in our local area. This year alone, more than 300 student volunteers have been involved in a total of 27 projects (such as Reading Plus, Maths Plus, and History Plus) in 13 local schools, including six projects that were set up this year.

It’s not just a numbers game either; our impact evaluation (both qualitative and quantitative) has shown student-tutoring makes a huge difference, both to students’ grades and their attitudes to learning in general. For example, in one school 83 per cent of students attending Geography Plus tutoring sessions with Oxford University and Oxford Brookes students gained 5 good (A*- C, including maths and English) GCSEs, compared to 73 per cent for those who were not participating in any Schools Plus projects. Teachers agree – 83 per cent of teachers interviewed strongly agreed that taking part in tutoring sessions had a positive effect on their students’ confidence and interest. In the words of one English teacher: “Not only do they feel increasingly familiar and confident with the texts they will be called upon to analyse, they feel listened to, supported and valued by their mentors, and this can only help to increase their chances of GCSE success… These are typically students on the C/D borderline, for whom securing a grade C will significantly impact upon their future prospects and life chances.” She also highlights the broadening of horizons the project fosters, on both sides of the relationship: “Our students begin to learn about the possibilities available to them after school – both at university and in the wider world. I would like to think that this is also reciprocal and that one of the many benefits the visiting mentors gain from working with other students is a greater insight into their lives, situations and hopes for the future.”

My personal journey with Schools Plus began by accident, because someone I knew happened to work at the Hub and was running a project, English Plus. I enjoyed my first couple of sessions, but something was missing – my passion for the subject. So I set up my own project, piloting History and Politics teaching in two secondary schools in Oxford. The challenges were unique in each. In one school, we as tutors were acting as an element of continuity for an A level class which simply did not have a permanent teacher. Helping with exam technique and revision guidance, we were providing students with a depth of subject knowledge and critically, passion, that they didn’t have elsewhere. In the other, passion was still key, but this was about helping a small history department in a huge school extend its reach into different subject areas and teach its best students the kind of independent research skills that their permanent teachers simply couldn’t. More than this, the sessions gave us all the opportunity to ask and answer questions, dispel myths and just have a laugh.

Through spending a few hours a week, tutoring the subject they love not only can students boost grades, we can also engage with our local community. It’s not ok for us to simply continue to revel in the privilege of our ivory tower – an excellent education should be within the reach of everyone, regardless of social and economic background, and I believe we as students have a duty to take action. Over 70 per cent of Schools Plus tutors feel their volunteering has helped increase their understanding of educational issues in the UK, but we can and we must, do better. Nervously going along to my first session ages ago because someone I knew thought I’d enjoy it, and being completely terrified of not fitting in has somehow evolved into a personal passion (some might call it an obsession) for tackling educational inequality and social action in general. By continuing to hold talks, debates and conferences on these issues, and by sharing our stories of them, we can break down the barriers of difference – not only between communities, but also within our own community. I believe everyone has a social cause that is important to them, and it is through engaging with our local community, and by actively raising awareness of it that we as students can create real sustainable change – both in terms of measurable short term impact and in terms of educating ourselves and each other into making social impact an integral part of our lives well into the future. The Oxford Hub, and the projects it supports are essential to this, and without it our School Plus volunteers would not have been able to make the difference they have, and many students would not be able to pursue their personal causes – whether they be environmental, social, or economic.

Prelims’ pressures and pains

Prelims’ pressures and pains

Exam season is well and truly coming. The sun has begun occasionally appearing over Port Meadow, finalists have disappeared into the bowels of their rooms, and the first pictures of ecstatically trashed students have begun to appear on our Facebook feeds.

Following on the tail of these picture-postcards of the Oxford summer comes a highly nervous figure clutching a pile of books and fiddling with sub-fusc which they haven’t worn since Matriculation. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Exam Season Fresher.

They’ve been talking about how nervous they are about Prelims for at least seven weeks, but it hasn’t spurred them on enough to actually make them do any work. The prospect of cranking out essays for three hours is just about something they can cope with, having survived through two rounds of collections, but the idea of these being marked – of them counting – is terrifying.

You can feel the change of atmosphere in first-year accommodation already. The end of term doesn’t just mark another holiday, it means exams. For most students, the last set of exams they took had a lot riding on them: a university place, future job prospects, CV fodder.

Freshers, here’s a piece of news for you.

Prelims aren’t the same.

This isn’t school any more. What you get at the end of this summer really isn’t going to have any relevance in a year or two’s time, despite the carnations and gowns and trashing and all of the rest of the ceremony. Your tutors are going to want you to do as well as you can. Obviously, you are too, but apart from maybe a few employers looking for interns, if your marks are lower than you hoped, it’s not going make a massive impact on your life, or your degree at all.

Talking to your friends about it probably isn’t helping either. Living in a college environment, stress spreads amazingly amongst Freshers, and between you, you end up just winding everything out of proportion. Suddenly you’re all terrified of what’s going to happen in five to seven weeks time in that exam room, even though your friends at other unis, where the first year exams count, seem much more chilled.

So, before it all gets too much, take a deep breath and step away from everything for a minute.

What’s the worst that’s really going to happen following the exams? If you’ve been really, truly struggling to keep up with work – through illness, stress, not understanding, or anything else – then your tutors should have already picked it up. Hard as it is, the constant pressure of deadlines and having face-to-face contact with tutors means that your work is being monitored all the time, and that you have a person on the other side of a desk or email to ask for help if it’s all getting too much. For the majority of students, we might feel all the time like we’re failing, but, actually, you’re probably doing ok. And you know what? In prelims, you’ll probably do ok too.

Trinity term definitely feels different, and nobody’s disputing that. Alongside the sun, punting and Pimms, exams have suddenly returned into your lives, and it’s scary. But at the end of the day, they’re just another way of judging where you are with your work, and some kind of indication of where your degree might be headed if you keep going in the same direction.

Work for your prelims. Try your best, and revise hard. At the same time, though, remember to keep things in perspective, as with most things in Oxford. Caught up in the famous bubble of academia and stress, serious exams jump out as the next obvious thing to worry about. At the end of the day, they don’t really matter.

OULC and OUCA societies duke out debate

OULC and OUCA societies duke out debate

Pacquiao warmed up for ‘the fight of the century,’ Oxford’s two political society heavyweights stepped into the ring to debate the election.

With just five days to go until the country decides, the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) and the Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) both argued why their party should be leading the country for the next five years.

Finn McMahon, Noni Csogor and Lewis Willcocks spoke for Labour, against Jack Matthews, Maryam Ahmed and Brenda Njiru of OUCA. The Blue Boar Room of Christ Church College was packed with a partisan crowd who never hesitated to make their displeasure or delight known to the speakers. Questions came from the audience, testing the representatives on a wide range of issues in three categories: the economy; health, education and welfare; and home affairs.

The night finished with no obvious winner, although the poise, intelligence and passion of the speakers provided enough entertainment that the audience came out as the real winners, especially given the absence of an official Cameron-Miliband debate.

Two political society heavyweights stepped into the ring.

OUCA member Wojciech Woznicki told The OxStu: “The opening speech went far… in blasting through preconceptions people may have been harbouring about OUCA and the Conservatives.” While the OUCA performance was more consistent, Woznicki said, “OULC was elevated by a thoroughly impressive performance of Finn McMahon who managed the nearly impossible feat of making Labour look reasonable on the economy.”

Finn McMahon and Jack Matthews led the charge for both camps, providing some of the night’s more memorable highlights, including a jab at David Cameron’s disinterest in competing in a head-to-head debate with Ed Miliband. Despite the lack of recording equipment, the debaters grasped for soundbites: Tory-representative Matthews opened launched the first attack by proclaiming that Labour would “balance the books of today on the backs of the young people of tomorrow.” McMahon was quick to fire back, and insist that Labour “are the fiscally responsible party in this election,” prompting hisses from the OUCA audience members.

The economics round of the debate focused on issues such as the deficit, zero hour contracts, food banks, and economic inequality, with neither party emerging as the clear winner.

Following this early exchange, Conservative Brenda Njiru and Labour representitive Noni Csogor to stepped in to fight it out over health, education and welfare. Labour emerged on top in this round, despite Njiru’s fiery opening statement, accusing the Labour speakers of hypocrisy given their private school backgrounds. For Labour, Csogor focused on the “inhuman” profits made by private NHS contractors and the “appalling cheapness with which this government treats human life.”

For the final round, OUCA president Maryam Ahmed and Labour’s Lewis Willcocks took to fisticuffs over home affairs. The Tories seemed to come out ahead, using the issue of immigration to their advantage. Ahmed called out “the hypocrisy of the Labour party on housing baffling and disturbing,” referring to the Oxford City Council’s decision to ban rough sleeping.

That is, apart from one particular spectator who decided to leave during a discussion on the environment, with a parting comment that the threat of climate change was, apparently, “rubbish.”

The sole disappointment of the night was a sense of regret was that the country was never able to experience a Miliband verses Cameron head-to-head. However, this proxy-bout, with its fierce energy and enthusiasm was everything that the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight was not.

PHOTO: Matt Cardy/Gett Images

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