For political animals, there are plenty of ways to get involved in political bodies at the university. Firstly, the Oxford University Student Union – which produces this website – exists to enhance the student experience at Oxford. The officers, who are elected annually by the student body, deal with university-wide issues such as bursary negotiations. They also support numerous student-led campaigns, on wide-ranging issues such as racial equality, homelessness and divestment.
There are also student political societies to represent the main political parties and many more marginal ones, from the Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) to the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) and the Oxford University Liberal Democrats (OULD). These societies frequently welcome high-profile speakers and host social events.
OUSU is not to be confused with the Oxford Union, the second largest society in Oxford which frequesntly hosts world-famous speakers, from Elton John and Johnny Depp to Lynton Crosby. Some of the best speakers, however, are the students involved in the Union, who debate controversial motions every Thursday evening. If you’re interested in debating, International Relations Society and Oxford Model United Nations also provide a great forum for discussion.
At no other student society could a single week play host to Sir Ian McKellen describing his role in the gay rights movement, Stephen Fry delivering a biography of Oscar Wilde, and Europe’s top criminal lawyer explaining the moral impetus for defending Anders Breivik. The Oxford Union attracts world leaders in politics, film, music, sport, science, religion, fashion, and literature. Uniquely, whether the speaker is Morgan Freeman or Malala Yousafzai, members have the opportunity to interact with our guests, and challenge the things they say. In recent terms, members have clinked glasses with A$AP Rocky, questioned Marine Le Pen about her party’s policies, and sparked sporting controversy by asking Sepp Blatter the critical question: “Messi or Ronaldo?”
The Oxford Union is also one of the world’s most famous debating societies. On a weekly basis, members fill the debating chamber to hear students and world experts confront each other about pressing issues. In recent debates Jeremy Corbyn championed the viability of socialism, Shami Chakrabati insisted free speech entails the right to offend, and Mehdi Hasan passionately argued that Islam is a religion of peace. Everyone is encouraged to get involved; the Union provides weekly debating workshops whether you just want to hone your public speaking skills, or to compete internationally at debating championships. Another way to get involved is to run for committee. The students elected are responsible for organising all the Union’s events, from celebrity speaker addresses, to the termly ball.
Membership is available to all Oxford University students, and is a life ticket to all of the above. Whether you pay for your membership upfront, in monthly installments, or are eligible to a considerably reduced rate as part of our access scheme, you are sure to make your money back sooner rather than later. The Oxford Union is an extraordinary place- get involved!
Not surprisingly, for someone studying PPE, I’ve always been interested in politics and debating current affairs. Yet, despite my best efforts with long Facebook posts and extensive article sharing, I had a nagging sense after starting at University that I wasn’t making the most effort to bring about the changes I was passionate about- making Britain a more open, tolerant, liberal nation. Getting involved with the Oxford Lib Dems was simple as they run well-attended weekly discussions on current issues, socials, campaigning in the local area and speaker events featuring key politicians, journalists and thinkers, including this year where the former Health Minister Norman Lamb MP spoke with great conviction about the need to tackle mental health issues to over 100 people in Oxford. There is a fantastic group of people at the core of society, and more are joining all the time (despite the election result!)- so I’m definitely glad I got involved and am looking forward to running the society next term.
I first got involved with the Oxford Student Green Party when it was formed shortly after the election in Trinity (3rd) term 2015. The society is a great place to discuss green politics and ideas and become involved in local and national issues, whether you're a member of one of the UK Green Parties or not. The meetings are really friendly and any member can put forward topics or ideas for action. We hold regular socials, some of which have themes for discussion, and we have plans for debates and speaker events on social justice, environmental and economic issues. On top of this we also get involved in local activities, such as protesting against the City Council's recent proposals to penalise busking and begging. The society at the moment is still very new, so there's plenty of opportunity to get involved and take a hands-on approach to the directions it takes!
I got involved with Oxford Student PEN by signing up at the Freshers’ Fair. We campaign on issues of freedom of expression affecting people, especially writers, worldwide, and organise events to publicise and discuss the questions surrounding freedom of speech today, and to showcase the work of authors and poets we like.
My best experience so far has been organising a screening of the film Citizenfour. I got to be in charge of finding a venue, talking to the distributor, and securing funding, and it was really rewarding to see the whole event take shape.
I would absolutely recommend doing PEN. You get to learn about and hopefully help with issues facing people all around the world, and meet great people doing it.