Second-year English students have claimed victory after faculty bosses changed course on a plan to restrict choice over one of their finals papers.
Last week students were told they would be “randomly allocated” to a “Special Option” for one of the papers, and students at Christ Church created a Facebook group called “The Grapes of Wrath” less than 24 hours later.
It aimed to unite those “in a rage about the random allocation of modules for our finals.” Students urged fellow members from all colleges to petition the Faculty.
Only two days after this group was formed, members expressed satisfaction at the news that the Faculty would revoke the random allocation of topics, allowing students to rank their options.
The initial email from the Faculty stated that students must “complete a short form to indicate the 5 options that you feel you would most enjoy studying (these will not be ranked), and you will then be randomly allocated to one of the options that you are interested in.”
Sonia Morland, a second-year English student at St John’s, stated, “I’m really glad that they’ve listened to our comments and are now giving us a bit more choice. However, ideally we’d have even more choice (e.g. ranking 3 rather than 5 options).”
The Facebook protest group quickly grew in popularity. At the time of publication it has 164 members. Founding students rallied their “fellow grapes” to help reform “this educational crack den of corruption.”
Students notified the group that Subject and Senior Tutors from seven separate colleges, including New and St Peter’s, had listened to their discontent and filed complaints.
The second email from the English Faculty stated that, as a result of student and tutor feedback, they plan to “amend the sign-up system for this year. You will now be able to rank your choices in order of preference from 1-5.”
Katie-Rose Comery, another second-year English student at St John’s, commented, “I’m very happy that the Faculty have agreed to rank our options as we suggested, and that they responded to us so quickly.”
“Both the speed and ease with which they acquiesced suggests that it wasn’t particularly difficult for them to do, so I don’t see why they can’t have done it in the first place,” she added.
Shelby Holmes, a second-year English student at Trinity said that she was “delighted with the Faculty’s speedy response and their genuine aim to make the course better for the students.”
“Admittedly this isn’t the first time they’ve cocked thing up a bit, as last year’s email containing the coursework questions was actually missing a page, and so students’ work was delayed until the problem was rectified. Despite this I do feel that the faculty try their best, and hopefully such minor problems won’t continue,” she said.
Students are divided as to whether the new course, which contains fewer papers, means a reduction in teaching hours.
Morland stated that it was “hard to compare but it does sound like we’ll be getting pretty little teaching. I guess that’s just an arts degree for you though – I think by 3rd year we are capable of going off and doing a fair bit on our own.”
The English Faculty did not respond to a request for comment.
Students at Exeter marched in protest yesterday over the college’s “unfair” catering charge.
The campaign team behind the protest decorated window’s in the college’s Front Quad with signs reading “Most expensive college in Oxford” and “No food without a fight”.
The 40-strong group of campaigners spilled out into Turl Street and Broad Street, chanting slogans and holding signs reading “Less cash for mash” and “We’ve got beef”. JCR members led the march, and were cheered by nearby MCR members afterwards.
The £840 charge is payable by all students, but charges for individual meals are also paid on top of this sum.
Frances Beddow, a second-year History and English student who participated in the protest, described the system as “unfair”.
“It’s about time college started listening. Hopefully they will now take notice,” she said. Protester Nat Levine agreed, and pointed out that Exeter is the “most expensive college in Oxford”.
A second-year student who did not wish to be named expressed her hopes that the college would change course.
“It’s about time change happened. People have been seeking change on this for four or five years now, but the college has not listened.”
“I feel like it’s happening now,” she added.
The protesters held a banner making workshop in the JCR on Tuesday.
The protest was also covered on Twitter with protestors using the hashtag “#CTCC”, standing for “cut the catering charge”. Balliol PPE student Xavier Cohen, part of the Oxford Activist Network, tweeted: “Protest at Exeter College against a mandatory annual catering charge of £840. #CTCC #hallidarity”.
The charge has been widely condemned around Oxford, with OUSU President Tom Rutland citing Exeter as evidence of high living costs in Oxford. Last week, Rector Frances Cairncross said she had offered to discuss the charge with students.
Students boycotting Hall at Exeter over an “extortionate” catering charge are calling for help from other colleges this week.
A Facebook page, “Exeter College Hallternatives”, had 491 likes at the time of writing and is designed to allow students at other colleges the chance to offer Exeter student places in their Hall.
The College’s catering charge currently stands at £840 a year, making it the second-most expensive college in Oxford according to OUSU statistics.
Sources at the campaign claim that when the Catering Charge is factored in, the cost of eating three meals a day in Hall for someone living in is around £13 a day.
It is understood that costs for someone living out, which most Exeter students do for at least one year, will be much higher. Such students still have to pay a “living out” catering charge.
Nathan Ellis, a second-year student English at Exeter who is involved in the campaign, said students at the college were “incredibly pissed off” about the charge.
“Exeter is the most expensive college in Oxford and has the worst student satisfaction for accommodation. All the students at Exeter are incredibly pissed off that college continue to ignore our requests to engage in discussion about the catering charge and this has forced us into action,” he said.
“We will be boycotting Hall until we can see that they are taking our concerns seriously and on Wednesday afternoon we will be having a peaceful protest in college. We are doing all of this to demonstrate to the College that we aren’t going to put up with them taking the piss any more.”
The £840 charge is a flat obligatory rate on all students, which does not entitle them to any food. Any meals purchased are paid for on top of this initial rate.
Last week, Exeter’s Rector Frances Cairncross said: “The College has offered to discuss the costs of Hall with students, but these discussions
Students boycotting Hall at Exeter over an “extortionate” catering charge have this week called for help from other colleges. The Facebook page, “Exeter College Hallternatives”, had 481 likes at the time of writing and is designed to allow students at other colleges the chance to offer Exeter students guest places in their Hall.
The College’s catering charge currently stands at £840 a year, making it the second-most expensive college in Oxford according to OUSU statistics. Sources at the campaign claim that when the catering charge is factored in, the cost of eating three meals a day in Hall for someone living in is around £13 a day.
It is understood that costs for someone living out, as most Exeter students do for at least one year, will be much higher. Such students still have to pay a “living out” catering charge.
Nathan Ellis, a second-year English student at Exeter who is involved in the campaign, said students at the college were “incredibly pissed off” about the charge.
“Exeter is the most expensive college in Oxford and has the worst student satisfaction for accommodation. All the students at Exeter are incredibly pissed off that College continue to ignore our requests to engage in discussion about the catering charge and this has forced us into action,” he said.
“We will be boycotting hall until we can see that they are taking our concerns seriously and on Wednesday afternoon we will be having a peaceful protest in college. We are doing all of this to demonstrate to the College that we aren’t going to put up with them taking the piss any more.”
The £840 charge is a flat obligatory rate on all students, which does not entitle them to any food. Any meals purchased are paid for on top of this initial rate.
Last week, Exeter Rector Frances Cairncross said: “The College has offered to discuss the costs of Hall with students, but these discussions have not yet taken place.”
A motion to boycott Hall passed an extraordinary meeting of the JCR in 4th week, with more than a hundred students in support. The boycott began on Monday of fifth week, with a launch party on Sunday.
During the extraordinary meeting, concerns were raised over the fact that there is only one JCR kitchen available for student use. “During the meeting, students discussed the difficulties of the planned boycott at length. This included the problem of there being only one small JCR kitchen for such a large number of people, making it a challenge for students to prepare nutritious meals for an extended period of time,” JCR President Richard Collett-White stated in an email.
A similar hall boycott took place in Trinity last year, after which, according to a third-year leading the campaign, the Governing Body pledged to explore alternatives to the catering charge by Michaelmas Term, to potentially implement by Hilary Term.
A document produced by the campaign said students were looking for an “explanation” behind the charge: “Exeter students hope for an explanation of why the Fellows have set charges at Exeter far higher than other colleges. We would like College to provide greater transparency and some concrete proposals to reduce student dissatisfaction. We will be significantly decreasing Hall attendance until the JCR are persuaded to end the boycott,” it said.
“Yet despite these concerns, 90% voted in favour of the boycott. Students also emphasised their readiness to protest the catering charge actively and visibly in the coming weeks.”
The charge has caused anger across Oxford. Tom Rutland, OUSU President, used Exeter as an example of unreasonable living costs when he wrote to the Vice-Chancellor last year about his comments regarding £18k tuition fees.
It could be disingenuous to talk of ‘Oxford culture.’ Sure, there are rituals with which we all engage, albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm. But be it the pomp and back-stabbing of the Union, the cheap(ish) alcohol and questionable music of the club scene, or the 5am starts and straining muscles of rowing, we all inhabit and mould our own subcultures. There is a great deal to celebrate about our university, but there is equally a great deal to critique. One such thing I have run into repeatedly is an enforced culture of apathy; the hidden tyranny of the insistence on all things being ‘apolitical’.
Don’t get me wrong – between a Labour Club that alternates between listening to backbench MPs and trying to become backbench MPs, a Conservative Association that does its best to resemble a 1920s fox hunt, and the UK’s second least-popular student union, I can certainly sympathise with the level of ‘rejection-ism’ of the obnoxious, the boring, and the irrelevant.
But a bit of taking the piss isn’t what I’m talking about. I have spoken to people (on both the left and the right) who have wanted to leave their colleges because of how ostracised they felt, not because people disagreed with their opinions, but because they were rejected for daring to be ideological. I’ve never had it that bad, but as a naïve fresher I did bring a motion to my JCR calling upon it to support a demonstration against fees. I thought the motion might lose, but wasn’t prepared for being told that I had somehow done something deeply wrong by upsetting the ‘apolitical’ balance of the JCR. The motion was amended to a few sentences saying ‘we recognise that people in the common room have different opinions.’ Quiet Facebook deletions followed. Later, as an OUSU representative, I was told to abstain from voting on ‘political’ motions.
Firstly, the argument that we can be ‘apolitical’ is nonsense. It’s tacit endorsement of the status quo – which is a political act. ‘Neutral’ decisions that JCRs take all the time are loaded with political assumptions, and by being an elected body, the JCR is a political institution. I’m not arguing that common rooms should be partisan (I really don’t want to see an OUCA-OULC contest for JCR food rep) or that we have to spend every Sunday discussing the eurozone, but simply that we can’t get away from politics, and rigid social enforcement of such rules doesn’t accomplish that aim. It alienates people and shuts down debate – exactly what it claims to avoid.
In-vogue OUSU-hate is a classic example. It’s fine for people not to bother voting because they think their union is irrelevant. Personally I’d disagree – a representative voice to the university that also campaigns for equal rights and mental health awareness, charities, student projects, and a counselling service is important. But that’s your decision. What’s slightly odder is when people decide to act as if a weekly student union email is somehow destroying their life. Or when common-room committees railroad through misleading ‘disaffiliation referenda’, which are actually impossible as students are union members as individuals, and which might lead students to think that they’re disenfranchised in elections or can’t use central welfare services. It’s also mildly amusing when people in common room meetings say they couldn’t give a shit about discussing OUSU and then they’re the first to bleat and whine when they find out that their rep voted on something with which they disagree.
This university is full of wonderful people, and I’ve enjoyed the vast majority of my time here. But it’s also not worth brushing every problem under the carpet in the interests of keeping the peace. When doing access work, I used to spend a lot of time telling people that Oxford is an incredibly accepting place – let’s just ensure we’re always living up to that.
Comment is starting its second Conversation series, aiming to collect student perspectives on Oxford life and culture – submit anything you wish on this theme to email@example.com. We might even print it.
FEATURED PHOTO/ Nathan Akehurst
Hundreds of protesters filled Soho square last Sunday as part of a global “day of rage” against last week’s Indian Supreme Court ruling which effectively criminalised homosexual acts in the world’s largest democracy.
Oxford students were called to the protest following an email circulated by the Oxford Indian Society and forwarded around the Oxford University LGBTQ Society mailing list by president Ashley Francis-Roy.
The email castigated last week’s ruling as a “deep betrayal of the fundamental constitutional promise that the dignity of all citizens would be recognised in the world’s largest democracy”. It was emphasised that the judgement was “not about any one community in any one country but about the structures that oppress many across the world.”
According to protester Nikita Kaushal, an Earth Sciences student at Exeter College, “around 10 students from Oxford and many more ex-students” were joined by “significant long-distance support” from students on their Christmas breaks.
Ms Kaushal suggested that “the recognition of LGBTQ as a community in itself and a part of the community at large” was a key motive for the protestors. She added that “the support that the protest received from the non-Indian LGBT community was touching”.
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Following a sustained campaign, opponents of controversial Port Meadow accommodation have been given a court date to protest construction of “disastrous” blocks.
The hearing, which will take place on October 23 at the High Court in Birmingham, is described as “a permission hearing to enable the court to decide whether the procedural challenges raised by CPRE amount to something arguable”.
It came about after several months of campaigning through an online petition, which gained over 3000 signatures, threats of legal action, and multiple Freedom of Information requests.
However, even with an encouraging verdict from the judge, Mr Justice Hickinbottom, a resolution could still be months away.
Paul Goffin, the University’s estates director, believes that a reduction in size for each building could cost between £10 and £20 million, and would be an “inappropriate use of charitable funds”.
This development comes in response to significant resistance to the scheme among locals, who opposed Oxford City Council’s decision to grant the University permission to build blocks of student housing along the scenic stretch.
Critics of the project claim that the permission was granted based on incomplete information regarding the environmental and cultural impact of the plans for 412 units of accommodation on Roger Dudman Way in the form of several multi-storey blocks.
Early last year, claims that the buildings would obscure views of the dreaming spires of Oxford and break up the landscape were supported by a report from Nick Worlledge, leader of the city council’s heritage team. The report expressed concern for the preservation of Oxford’s “fragile” skyline, the view of which would be obstructed were the plans to go ahead.
Critics also claimed that “spires, towers and domes… could be easily dominated or obscured, compromising their pre-eminence” and “there is no justification for this harm”.
Shortly after these criticisms were made, the University submitted a revised bid for planning permission that reduced the height of the buildings by a 1.2 metres.
Following this, the council granted permission for the construction of these revised plans.
However, after it was revealed that the committee that ruled on the revised project was never presented with the information of the report, many were quick to criticize the University.
Amongst them was Helen Marshall, director of the Campaign to Protect Rural England Oxfordshire. She said that the University was trying to have it both ways in the debate by claiming that the reduction in height was both not significant enough to warrant a reevaluation of the plans by the heritage team, yet significant enough to resolve any issues highlighted by the report.
Elise Benjamin, a member of the committee who abstained from the vote, claimed that she felt there was insufficient information and that “the seriousness of the heritage officer’s views did not come to councilors. You do not get such strongly worded opinion from officers very often”.
John Tanner, board member for a Cleaner, Greener Oxford City, city councilor for Littlemore and county councilor for Isis, commented that “nothing was hidden from councilors when [the committee] decided last year to approve new student flats in Roger Dudman Way” in a letter he penned to the Oxford Times in April.
The letter stated that there were at least seven paragraphs regarding the implications of the plans and that decisions were made with “eyes open”.
Exeter students are set to boycott hall today in protest against the College’s refusal to listen to student demands during rent negotiations.
The College has refused to reduce the catering fee, which is currently a whopping £840 a year. This is far greater than any other college, and Exeter students still have to pay high meal prices on top of this.
In negotiations with the college, the JCR and MCR proposed a modest reduction in this fee, by allowing for £100 of the catering fee to be redeemed.
This suggestion was not agreed to by the bursar, who instead made the small concession of four free Second Halls a term, worth about £22 in total.
In protest, students have organized ‘hall-ternatives’ for all three meals today which will allow students to eat in college for a much smaller fee than that charged by hall- around 50p for lunch and £1.50 for dinner.
Ed Nickell, the JCR president, stated: “As every JCR Member knows, Exeter is an incredibly expensive place to live. Ever since the last contract was signed, five years ago, the catering charge for students living both in and out of College has been subject to an exorbitant increase.
“But now, as this contract has finally expired, we have another chance to get a fair deal.”
He added: “Currently, Exeter has the largest catering charge in Oxford – in fact it is a whopping £126 bigger than the next largest, New College, and they are able to redeem their charge in Hall anyway. This brings the effective cost of breakfast to £3.09, lunch to £4.12 and Dinner to £8.24. We all agree this is not acceptable, and now, at last, we have a chance to do something about it.”
Current hall prices contributed to its extremely poor performance in a recent student barometer survey where the College was ranked bottom for living cost satisfaction, 2nd bottom for hall satisfaction and 3rd most expensive of all undergraduate colleges.
Sam Perkins, a second year from Exeter, commented: “Frustration has been building for a long time within Exeter, and given that we have finally got this opportunity to re-negotiate the catering charges, it is very important that we do something.
“I think that the fact that we haven’t been given anywhere as many opportunities to discuss things with the governing body is ridiculous, and hopefully by taking some joint symbolic action will make them realise that the student body really does worry about the scale of our living costs.”
The ‘Hall-ternatives’ event was organized after a JCR meeting last night, when the JCR resolved to make a statement before the Finance and Estates meeting due to be held on Wednesday.
In that short time, over 150 people have joined the Facebook group saying they are not going to hall, and many have left supportive messages about the event.
The issues surrounding the catering fee are closely intertwined with issues regarding the student rents for next year, which were discussed in the same meeting between the student representatives and the bursar.
The JCR and MCR proposed that rents be frozen, arguing that the financial situation of students has been fixed in recent years, while the college has benefited from a 12% increase in income from conferences and above-inflation rent increases.
Ed Nickell and Mishra Challenger, JCR and MCR presidents respectively, therefore wrote to the bursar stating that: “Rising costs mean that it is not possible to ensure both students and the College accounts are unaffected. Given that the costs must be borne, they should be borne on a basis of ability to pay. Unless there is convincing evidence that student ability to pay is greater than College’s, College should bear these costs.”
The Bursar responded to these comments in a letter sent to both Nickell and Challenger, arguing: “While I accept that some students do and will always struggle financially, an institution such as Exeter cannot base its rent charges on what the poorest student feels is affordable.
“It is the role of bursaries and other forms of academic grant and hardship funding to deal with genuine need and ensure, in as far as possible, the fairest distribution of limited resources… Any further subvention of resources to accommodation would necessitate a diversion from the funding of academic activities in the College.”
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Protesters took to Cornmarket this Saturday, with various groups demonstrating against the Bedroom Tax. The gathering was fairly small, amounting to only about 20 people.
However, the demonstration still made an impression on passing shoppers. The protesters gathered around a double bed displaying the faces of Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith tucked under a pink and white spotted duvet.
As well as brandishing a large banner reading ‘Axe the Bedroom Tax: Say No to Evictions’, protesters held placards, and offered spares to passers-by.
Although most placards were moderate in tone, some bore images of the mutilated face of Cameron, with the message ‘The Greatest Cut of All’.
The ‘bedroom tax’ came into effect in April, affecting over half a million households. The government estimates that savings to the taxpayer will amount to £505m in 2012-13, and £540m in the year after.
The new rules will affect housing benefit, usually amounting to between £50 and £100 a week, paid to poorer tenants. Families judged to have too much living space by their councils will receive a reduced payment.
Couples will be expected to share a bedroom, and children must share up to the age of ten, regardless of gender. If of the same gender, children must share a room until aged 16.
For families with a student staying away from home, there will be no penalty, provided the student sleeps at home for at least two weeks in a year. However, when the universal credit scheme is introduced this autumn, he or she will need to be at home for a minimum of six months to avoid a benefit cut.
In the event of bereavement, families will be given one year to rearrange their housing.
However, critics have said that the new rules disproportionately affect the vulnerable, particularly the disabled, and will cut the budgets of the poorest in society.
Most protesters hoped their efforts would put pressure on Oxford City Council to interpret the rules in a lenient manner.
Some cited the example of Leeds Council, who have reclassified extra bedrooms as studies or ‘non-specific rooms’, to avoid enforcing the measures.
The group was composed mostly of ordinary Oxford residents, as well as students from Ruskin College and Brookes. Additionally, there was a significant Marxist presence at the demonstration, with pamphlets from the Socialist Worker being distributed, as well as leaflets from local group Ox4Democracy.
The group was unusually depleted, protest organisers claimed, because some members of the group had been diverted to protest against an unrelated English Defence League wreath laying at a nearby war memorial, which coincided with the event.
Stephen, a local resident who attended the protest, commented: “The most vulnerable people in the country, who are already on the breadline, are being taxed further, and two thirds of the people are affected are disabled. Basically, the government is setting up this whole divisive strategy, trying to get people off benefits when they can’t possibly work, and we’re trying to pressure the council to do something about it.”
Adam Ramsford, a local resident involved in the protest, said: “The idea that the solution to the housing crisis, the solution to the banking crisis, is to cut benefits for some of the poorest people in the country is absurd.The idea that you can shift blame and responsibility for a set of very complex problems, in turn caused by a system successful in making a select group of people very rich, is awful.”
Whilst Oxford City Council voted in April to condemn the bedroom tax, as well as approving a set of measures to mitigate the practical effect of the new legislation, it is not yet clear to residents to what extent they will be affected by the changes.