VERSA | OUSU sends students to national TEF protests

TEF is currently being implemented by the government and will allow participating universities which are judged to teach certain subjects well to raise their tuition fees by £250 a year. Apparently £6000 a year extra wasn’t enough for Oxford, as they have resolved to sign up for TEF despite large portions of the student body opposing the move. Due to contract peculiarities, those lucky enough to have started before 2016 will escape the raise, but freshers can expect to pay an extra £250 each year that they are at university when the policy is implemented. OUSU, along with other student unions from across the country, helped to organise the national protest against this. To support this effort it hired two coaches to transport students who sign up down to London. OUSU justified this with the fact that this is the kind of issue that they should be campaigning about, as having more debt will directly impact student welfare. However, in failing to ask JCRs for the money to do this first, the result has been that its funds have been seriously depleted so they have had to ask JCRs for donations to replete them. This has caused contentious debate at open meetings, with a range of donations being eventually coughed up.

Shockingly, Wadham donated the most, amending their donation up to £250 during the meeting. Who would have guessed that?

Tags: activism — Oxford — protest — student politics — students

Trinity Ball: La Belle Époque VERSA

Opulence, extravagance and the joie de vivre, terms commonly used to describe La Belle Époque and now Trinity College are looking to recreate those same descriptions in their own Commemoration Ball. This certainly appears to be the ‘golden age’ of Oxford May Balls, with Trinity promising to put on a spectacle worthy of the court of Louis XIV.

The promotional video produced and conceptualised by Trinity’s very own Andrew Spicer, Tom Lloyd and Laura Foster combines the slightly psychedelic with pure luxury and has the touching motif that however the night goes, you’ll probably end up kissing someone and spending the next morning sitting on a doorstep reminiscing about what could have been. Although probably in slightly more disheveled black tie than that worn by Tom Lloyd in the promo.

Regardless the sheer scale of the sellout event, which promises an 1800 name guest list and is traditionally one of the largest in Oxford, will be an unmissable occasion for French-style decadence and debauchery.

General sale is on the 21st November at midday. VERSA will be there, you should be too if you’ve got a spare £200.

VERSA | Union debate sees hundreds queue for hours in freezing conditions

As the cold winds of winter swept across Oxford, 100s of bedraggled, overworked and somnambulant students crouched, hunched and shivered in the distant hope of getting into the EU debate at the Oxford Union. Hours passed and the queue grew from a band of keen intrepid first arrivals at 2pm to a continuous line stretching to St Peter’s College.

No one came out to count them. No one told half of them they couldn’t get in.

Those that did get in were unpleasantly surprised to see a full eight rows reserved for Union Committee and guests (eight?!).

 The entire front is reserved. Will @OxfordUnion be able to justify this with so many waiting in the cold?

— Jonathan Goddard (@jonathangoddard) November 23, 2015

Some frostbitten students took to the event’s Facebook page to vent their frustration, with choice comments including:

“IS THIS A JOKE? I understand that there is a limited capacity but it’s absolutely ridiculous to make people wait in the cold until 15 minutes before the emergency debate begins before cutting the queue again. How is it possible that there is not one person on the committee who could count to 450 and let us get back to our work? We’re not paying £250 to freeze on the street for 3 hours +”

Another pissed off member commented on the Facebook event: “The only benefit I can take from my hours of queueing in the cold is the lovely warm Maccies I had.” #SiverLinings?

Someone’s even made a petition (maybe a bit far?). Maybe the Union will consider ballots for events in future. Members have work, it’s cold, and they paid over £200 to join… they’d probably appreciate a bit of care and attention.

The only thing colder than the poor sod’s queueing tonight was Nigel’s pre-debate pint…

Oxford facing unprecedented homelessness crisis VERSA

Versa can reveal that there is, simply put, a crisis occurring in homelessness in Oxford. Services are being slashed to the bone due to council cuts, while volunteers try to fill the gap. Caught in the middle, people who are forced to live on the streets face abject conditions which have become shamefully normalised in a city known for its abnormally high number of homeless people.

“I am struggling to survive”. Those were the word of Abu Latif, who sleeps rough on the streets of Oxford. You have probably walked past him on many occasions. This is a sentiment echoed by the homeless people who Versa talked to, and those in the volunteer organisations who try to help alleviate their condition. He reported not even being allowed to beg to try and survive, saying that he was often moved on by the police for doing so. Though we cannot confirm that this has occurred to him, we did see him being pressured to move by the private security outside of the shop where we met him shortly after interviewing him. According to a student volunteer from Turl Street Homeless Action who works routinely with Oxford’s homeless, the majority spend their lives “cold and hungry” and with little real human contact. Though there apparently are some “extreme” cases where people are content on the streets, for the majority it degrades them and makes them feel depressed and outside of the community. It is often forgotten that people sleeping on the streets are normal human beings who have fallen on hard times; especially in Oxford those who are without a home appear to be regarded as separate from the community. The reality is very different. Many were looking for work, but have had their benefits sanctioned for minor infractions and so have no money to live on for months. Many of the people helped by Turl Street Homeless Action have work, indeed for example one works as a bouncer. They are still not able to afford the sky high deposits for housing in Oxford. Even if one is able to afford the deposit, the size of waiting lists for housing keep many on the streets. Indeed, according to Jayson Marc-Frater from the Gatehouse, a single man could have to wait up to five years to be able to get into accommodation.

This is occurring while homeless services in Oxford face serious difficulties. The council is handing down severe cuts. This means that many are unable to stay open, indeed two shelters have been forced to close recently. The last closure is said to have displaced an estimated two hundred people. According to Jayson, this means that the night shelter can only take people in for up to four weeks at a time, and has left the Gatehouse around thirty-thousand pounds in debt. With these cuts they cannot sustainably maintain their services. They have been left desperate for volunteers and donations. Some are lucky enough to be able to access services such as the night shelter, and so are able to sleep with a roof over their heads. However the council has mandated that those who have no connection to Oxford, by which is meant no previous residency or family members, are not allowed to access these services. This means that they simply cannot go to places like the night shelter, regardless of how desperate their need might be. Some might not want to go to the shelters however as they see them as dangerous places. People are said to be scared to go there as they can be violent, or fearing that the drug taking that can occur there might cause them to relapse into addiction. Indeed Versa has heard about cases of this from multiple sources. The result of this is scores of people sleeping rough on the streets of Oxford each night, and a problem which is getting worse.

The Oxford City Council refused to comment, even after multiple requests from Versa.

One can find some homeless organisations who work in Oxford below


Moncrieff Club Founder Arrested After Violent Rampage VERSA

Editor’s note: Following publication of this article, Kelvin Keeley reached out to us and requested that we add the following statement from him.

“I deny any association with The Moncrieff Club. There are no conditions attached to my caution so I am not liable to be re-arrested, hence I did not breach any conditions. I deny swearing. I only started drinking aged 20. I have never seen the published invitation before. I may not find gainful employment after sinning but I hope God will eventually forgive me. I hope that people do not think of me as being either arrogant or vulgar.”

Versa can report that the founder of the ‘Moncrieff Club’, a new drinking society modelled on the infamous Bullingdon Club, was arrested last night outside Hertford College after assaulting several people.

Kelvin Keeley’s night had begun at OUCA’s weekly Port and Policy, at which he was “curt and unfriendly” . The following events however took place on the street outside the King’s Arms pub, and bear no relation to OUCA or the Port and Policy event.  

Keeley reportedly became verbally aggressive while outside the pub. He was asked to leave. Several eyewitnesses report that Keeley then attempted to return. He was throwing punches and screaming at various students. Eventually, he was restrained by a large crowd of pub-goers. The police however were called immediately after the first punches. 

He then retreated towards Hertford, claiming ominously that “he would be back”. He was arrested there and apparently told the police to, “fuck off”, even using the ‘c’ word. VERSA can also confirm from multiple sources that he spent the night in police custody,  and that an ambulance was called for two people. Keeley has been given a police caution, which will be held on his record for 6 years. During this time, he is liable to be re-arrested and prosecuted, if he breaks instructions given to him by police. It has emerged that less than an hour after his release, he was reported again to the police for breaching unspecified conditions of his caution. 

The Moncrieff club had previously been featured in an article in the Tab, with an anonymous letter leaked “cordially fucking invit[ing]” members to “enjoy the Bollinger” at a party due to be held on Friday the 7th of April. It also asked them to “make it rain” with “charlie”. It is also known for its low membership count of four. The Moncrieff club has been described as ,”A joke. They would never get into a decent club and after last night may rightly struggle to find gainful employment.”

“And you can keep your virgins, give me the free young with arses that forget to age” – the invitation letter from the Moncrieff Club

Keeley has been described by sources as being, “neither rich nor posh. He is astoundingly arrogant and vulgar and has lost most of his friends through his ridiculous … antics.” 

VERSA regrets that such individuals end up representing Oxford students. 


VERSA | It seems there will be a fight for the wooden throne after all

A contested election for Union President is on the cards. Friends of both have confirmed their intentions to HackWatch.

Who will you choose?

Shahin is the current Treasurer, so has control of the Union finances this term. She flew past all her competitors to come top of the election to Standing Committee last term, in only her first election.

Shahin shaking up the Treasurer’s office…

Webber is the current Librarian, so has been in charge of organising this term’s speakers along with the President. He’s a veteran of Union elections, and was formerly the Union Secretary.

The secretary with the cheeky smile

Discontent amongst medics as university mandates “unnecessary” animal experimentation VERSA

Versa has spoken to several second year medical students from different colleges on the condition of anonymity, and the allegations that have emerged are deeply disturbing. They have told us that a superfluous level of animal testing is routinely carried out as part of this year of their course. Most agree it is in fact not even very helpful for their education, and that the same results could be achieved through carrying out a single experiment and projecting it by video. Indeed this is how they are shown surgery within humans, and what they have told us is done at most other medical schools.

It must be said that the students we spoke to are not hard-core animal rights activists, they did not vehemently oppose all animal testing. One in fact spoke at significant length about how they believe animal testing for the discovery of new scientific knowledge is totally justified. What they allege that a large amount of the students on their course are concerned about is that the amount that is carried out is unnecessary and indeed not even helpful.

During their second year, students who take medicine are required to carry out multiple practical experiments upon animals, or parts of animals which have been freshly killed. These include experiments with hormones upon mouse uteruses, testing the effects of different drugs upon guinea pig respiratory tissue, and measuring the effect of acsetylecoline upon a ferret. A couple felt specifically uncomfortable with the final of these experiments which involved the exposure and obliteration of a ferret’s brain, feeling that the large group size meant that it was not particularly enlightening. In these the students are placed in large groups, at minimum 3-5 and even up to 15 per animal, which the experiment is then performed upon. One demonstrator is alleged to have told their students in the first class of the year that there was no aspect of animal cruelty to the experimentation, yet they would only be assigned one animal per ten students instead of one per two students as had been done in previous years. The source pointed out that this “seemed contradictory”. The animal is either dead or heavily anaesthetised during this process. They then proceed to watch and record the effect of the experiment, and afterwards the animal is killed (if it has not already been for the experiment).

All of the students we spoke to agreed that such testing was to some extent necessary for their course rather than simply reading about it or looking at computer models. This is because in the real world tissues do not behave exactly like they do in computer models. Therefore it is useful for medicine students to know how in reality tissues might behave slightly differently to what they might expect based simply upon such models. It also reassured some that what they knew that they had read in the textbook did actually occur before they had to potentially use it upon a patient in the future. These are indeed what one concerned student who spoke to their demonstrator was given as justifications for the level of testing they are made to carry out. At least one student was sceptical of this, saying “people make all kind of arguments about how it helps us understand the drug testing process, or makes us less squeamish, but … I’d learn that more readily in the dissection classes we have and in demonstrations”. However, the majority of them spoken to believe that this could be achieved through simply doing a single demonstration and projecting it up on a board. This is apparently what occurs in lectures and is what is done in other classes. One student reported that “In one class we saw a video of a frog dissection that was just as effective at teaching me as if I had done it myself”, and another pointed out that there was “no correlation” between being a doctor and having to do things like this to animals.

While some say that such testing was emphasised as being part of the course beforehand, one student told us that they were in fact unaware of quite the extent of the experimentation they would be made to carry out until they had already accepted their offer. For context, medicine students have to sign a form before they study that gives their consent for them to carry out experimentation upon animals. If they do not, then they are not able to study at the university. However at least one source who spoke to Versa alleged that many students they knew consequently felt under pressure to sign this form. They said that “a lot of people are uncomfortable with having to agree to it, but they sign it because they want to go to Oxford”. There is no opt out mechanism, a move which several sources thought would be both possible and better than the current system.

Independently of each other, students also alleged that this sentiment was widespread amongst second years. Though all agreed that some testing was necessary, one said that it was felt that “they could definitely do less”. Another echoed this, and also said that the majority of other medical schools do not carry out this level of experimentation upon animals and are able to produce very good medical students as well. This is coming off of the back of reports in previous years that Oxford carries out the highest level of animal testing of any university in the country.

VERSA | Crisis Aboard HMS Union

It is often remarked that a week is a long time in politics – but then there are weeks which really drive this home to you…

Nothing highlights this fact more lucidly than the farcical goings on in Union politics of late. It is difficult to see how Gladstone would have envisaged the sheer extent of ineptitude and petulance that has seized this institution. For those of you who are not aware, in the last week we have had the resignation of the Treasurer-Elect in order to avoid the humiliation of being impeached for dereliction of duty. What followed was a faction-ridden mess which ended in Will Barnes, the ex-Returning Officer elected by Standing Committee, to succeed his close school friend Michael Li as Treasurer. One would think this would be the end – if only.

The Librarian-Elect, then, in a move which can only be described as a Heathesque sulk, resigned her position and decided to go to the press, citing movements of a shady cabal which were trying to take power unfairly. This is a deliciously ironic sentiment from the ex-Secretary given that the election which delivered her the role was about as clean as Hilary Clinton’s email account. Significantly, however, comment about the Union made by Standing Committee has to be passed through the hands of the dear leader, Mr Noah Lachs. Either the President allowed his own Society to be brought into disrepute, or someone else is going to face a binning.

Oh, did I mention the drop out of a presidential candidate, the resulting collapse of a slate, and the resurrection of that slate by everyone’s favourite American? One would be forgiven for thinking that some of these hacks are not very nice. Surely not?

Oxford shocks with latest appointments VERSA

Recent appointments suggest the University is looking to diversify the Oxford establishment, bringing our great ballast of social monolith at least into the 20th century.

Worcester College has chosen to grant Sir Ian McKellen a Distinguished Visiting Fellowship. The idolised actor, adored for his portrayal of Tolkien’s Gandalf was offered the position for three years, in which he will visit college at least six times. In these visits he is expected to put on masterclasses and  ‘in conversation’ events with students. McKellen’s connection with Worcester College first arose from his joint interest in Shakespeare with the Provost, Sir Jonathan Bate. The pair are hoping to launch an app, which aims to make the Bard’s works more accessible to young people.

The other new appointment of the past week has been highly decorated former police officer Helen King’s new position as Principal of St Anne’s College, who will be the first member of the police force to become head of an Oxford college, taking over from former director of programmes at Channel 4, Tim Gardam. King said in a tweet that she was “looking forward to joining another great team”. The alumna, who studied PPE at St Anne’s from 1983 to 1986, will begin her new role in April 2017. The acting principal Robert Chard stated that King “combines genuine human warmth with impressive competence and a commitment to inclusiveness, diversity and opportunity”.

VERSA looks forward to increasingly less orthodox appointments, with unconfirmed reports that Christ Church plan to award Diane Abbott an Honorary Fellowship.

Oxford Protests Trump VERSA

So it turns out that the people of Oxford don’t really like Donald Trump. Who would have guessed? Last night, two thousand five hundred people crammed into Cornmarket Street to protest against Donald Trump’s executive order banning all immigration from several Muslim-majority countries and Theresa May’s apparent acceptance of it. The march had been organised at short notice by Oxford Stand Up to Racism, Oxford Momentum and Oxford University Islamic Society to coincide with demonstrations across the country and the world. The crowd was incredibly diverse; first time protesters and uni students mixed with hard-core trade unionists and members of the local Muslim community to voice their opposition to the ban. Even OULC and OUCA were united, with prominent members of both attending to shout “Theresa May, you’re a sham! Muslims in, racists out!”.

Protesters on Cornmarket Street

The protest began with a rally by Carfax Tower, and the Labour candidate for Iffley Fields and St Mary’s Helen Evans and Ian McKendrick from Oxford Stand Up To Racism addressed the crowd. Other local campaigners spoke to the crowd as well, which blocked the entirety of Cornmarket Street. A local Muslim Imam sang the shahada prayer, which drew a loud round of applause and cheers. Speeches were made haranguing Trump, calling him a racist and sexist, interspersed with chants of “Refugees are welcome here!” and “Stop deportations!”. At least one of the speakers also pledged to try and stop Trump’s upcoming state visit, while several in the crowd shouted “Block the runway!”. The rally appeared to draw a large amount of support from passers-by, with many walking through the channels down the street kept open by the police joining in the chanting and expressing support. A few did appear agitated or angry at the extra minute it took them to walk home, however. Lots of protesters were holding home-made signs and banners; highlights of these included ‘Feed Him To The Corgis’, ‘Tiny Handed Hitler’ and ‘Build a Wall Around Trump’. Shockingly at least one fresher studying politics was in attendance, as shown by the sign saying “Stop Competitive Authoritarianism (Levitsky and Way 2010)”. If only all protesters had the rigour to properly reference their rage with footnotes.

The protesters then proceeded down the High Street, chanting as they went, and the police were forced to stop the traffic due to the numbers who had attended. The march went all the way over Magdalen Bridge and back up the high street before it then dispersed.