On Saturday 20th October, Oxford students joined a national demonstration of almost 700,000 people in London. The People’s Vote March for the Future was the largest protest march since the 2003 anti-Iraq war demonstration, and as with that historic event it saw students from all parts of the UK travel to the capital to make their voices heard. Students stand to lose the right to live and work across Europe, access to Erasmus and vital research funding, all as a result of the government’s shambolic withdrawal negotiations. We cannot ignore the fact that a bad Brexit will materially damage students, as well as the entire universities sector. And while ‘no deal’ is a catastrophe we all want to avoid, there is no Brexit deal on offer that does not hurt students’ interests.
This is why on Wednesday 1st week at Student Council, an overwhelming majority of delegates voted to amend our European Union policy, giving SU support to the campaign for a People’s Vote. We are now in line with national NUS policy as well as many trade unions, including the UCU. Policy debated and voted on at Student Council is scrutinised by up to three elected delegates from every common room, postgraduate and undergraduate, including MCR and JCR Presidents. Through this democratic procedure every fortnight, students bring forward policy and campaigns that they want the SU to advocate for. Voting members in Council consult those they represent, and this informs their vote in the Council meeting – as such we have policy on issues ranging from divestment from fossil fuels to opposition to the marketisation of higher education.
Brexit is one of our six team priorities as Sabbatical Trustees this year, alongside mental health, access, our resource hub, student survey and Springtide festival. As President I spend my time ensuring Oxford SU delivers and advocates for all six. Our priorities are all linked and are directly derived from the manifestos on which students elected us back in February. On lobbying the university to tackle the student mental health crisis and guarantee fair access to Oxford, the sabbatical team is already making huge progress. But none of us know what Brexit has in store for us in the coming months, and it is up to the sabbatical team to make sure we are ready as a student-led organisation. Mental health, access and the impact of Brexit are all fundamental issues to the student experience, and if the SU cannot speak out on what students care about most, it is failing to deliver.
The next step for SUs across the country is to lobby MPs. Here in Oxford, students live in either Oxford East or Oxford West & Abingdon constituency. Making sure these MPs vote against any Brexit deal that damages student interests, and instead support giving the people the final say, is essential. The events of the next few months will be historic. At this crossroads, it would be an abdication of duty for student unions to ignore Brexit and hope it will all go away. Students are standing up against the forces of xenophobia, nationalism and populism, and I’m proud Oxford is leading the way in this generational fight.