CUSU and the GU’s proposed system will mean individual students must disaffiliateLouis Ashworth

CUSU Council voted in favour of supporting changes to CUSU and the Graduate Union (GU)’s fee models, which will change the way the unions are funded if passed by the Bursars’ Committee.

Six members of Council, which is comprised of student representatives from colleges, faculties and from CUSU autonomous campaigns, voted against the motion, with the same number abstaining.

The proposals shift the basis of the way CUSU is funded away from affiliation fees paid directly by JCR and MCR towards a model of individual membership, in which colleges pay CUSU directly on a per capita basis. They will now be-reconsidered by the Bursars’ Committee, which has shown resistance to the proposals so far.

Proposals to change the way the fee model were first brought to Council on 24th October, CUSU moving to address the issue that, currently, students retain the full benefits of CUSU membership regardless of whether or not they belong to an affiliated JCR or MCR. This in turn means that affiliated colleges at present effectively subsidise the membership of students at disaffiliated colleges.

“We don’t think you should be subsiding those colleges [which are disaffiliated]”

– CUSU President Amatey Doku

However, amid concerns that some colleges would end up paying more than do currently, as well as concerns about what the proposed fee model would entail for the ability of JCRs and MCRs – no longer holding the keys to funding CUSU – to hold CUSU to account, a vote on the motion to support the changes was delayed.

CUSU President Amatey Doku presented the motion again this evening, saying that he had conducted a consultation during the week alongside GU President Chad Allen, and once again affirmed that the proposals are designed to resolve the problem of affiliated colleges subsiding services for students of disaffiliated colleges.

Addressing Council, the voting members of which are largely representatives of common rooms affiliated to CUSU, Doku said: “We don’t think you should be subsiding those colleges”.

Under the proposed changes, colleges would pay a £6.00 levy per undergraduate and full-time graduate, £3.00 per part-time graduate, and £1.50 per student student studying for the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). The revenue from graduate students would be split equally with the GU, while CUSU would receive all of the revenue from undergraduates.

The proposed levies are lower than the charges currently paid to CUSU per undergraduate and full-time graduate student, which currently stand at £6.70 and £6.50 respectively. However, they would most likely tied to inflation, unlike the current fees, which are fixed.

Doku also explained that common room affiliation fees – currently the staple of CUSU funding – will fall to around £100, with colleges administrations directly paying a levy for every student that hasn’t resigned their membership. Only when individuals resign their membership will the amount their college pays to fund CUSU decrease.

The representatives of Queens’ College have questioned whether the proposal would make CUSU less accountableSimon Lock

Doku was also keen to dismiss the idea that the proposals are borne out of any reactionary impulse against the recent spate of disaffiliation referenda: “This is the culmination of a very, very long process, over which we’ve gone back and forth with the Bursars’ Committee.”

“In my view it gives freedom to JCRs and MCRs to affiliate and reaffiliate on political grounds alone,” said Doku, who over the course of the evening reiterated repeatedly his desire to steer Council away from becoming embroiled in “conversations about money” in the future.

Queens’ JCR President Joseph Levin repeated his fears that the motion still failed to address criticisms that it would diminish CUSU’s accountability to Council and common rooms – a concern he had raised when the motion was initially brought before Council in October.

“What has changed?” asked Levin, referring to the concerns that were brought up the last time Council debated changes to CUSU’s funding model. One of these that was reiterated tonight was the concern that the changes would impact students at Gonville & Caius and Corpus Christi, where the JCRs are both currently disaffiliated.

The point was contested by Mark Driver, Vice President of Robinson MCR, who conceded: “Yes, it’s going to affect those colleges but if you consider the amount of money it’s going to affect those colleges by, it’s a very small amount compared to other levies colleges are paying for already.”

“The main issue is that you don’t get enough money from the central university”

– Joseph Levin, Queens’ JCR President

For some, the key problem is perceived to be that CUSU does not receive a large enough block grant from the University. This year, CUSU will receive around £200,000 from the University, including £86,000 to pay for its premises at 17 Mill Lane – lower than may student unions around the country. In 2013/14, Oxford University Students’ Union (OUSU) received around £650,000 directly from the university. CUSU has been blighted by financial issues recently, having had to request a bailout from the University last year, and ending last year in deficit for the first time in four years.

GU President Chad Allen was keen to stress the model is just “a proposal”CUSU

“The main issue is that you don’t get enough money from the central university,” Levin said, while Driver, speaking in favour of the motion to support changes, said that – while the proposals are “possibly not the best move for some colleges” – this would be “the first actual step to a much better system”, which could prove to be a “move towards a block grant”.

Under the proposals, Doku said that there would be “two levels of accountability”, since CUSU would have to answer both to JCRs and MCRs as well as securing the support of individual students, who would be able to hit the student unions’ finances directly by resigning their membership.

There were, however, doubts in the room about the second of these levels of accountability. “It’s going to be a small minority of students that are going to disaffiliate personally”, said one member of Council, while another questioned just how easy it was for a student to resign their membership of CUSU.

At present, to resign their membership a student must fill in a form, putting down their full name, college and signature before returning the form to the University Registrary. Although the form is available online and can be found using a search engine, it isn’t currently publicised anywhere on the CUSU website and is instead found on the Registrary’s Office website, on a broader page about “The University and student unions”.

“Students who exercise that right [to leave their student union] should not be unfairly disadvantaged, with regard to the provision of services or otherwise”

– Education Act 1994

The External Officer for Wolfson College Students’ Association (WCSA), Sebastian Wrobel, questioned the need to change the fee model at all, asking why CUSU could not just deny disaffiliated colleges services.

“Again, legally, we’d be in dodgy waters”, said Doku, with Allen adding that they cannot unfairly disadvantage someone based on whether they’ve opted-in or out of membership, pointing to the 1994 Education Act, which states: “students who exercise that right [to leave their student union] should not be unfairly disadvantaged, with regard to the provision of services or otherwise”. The Act suggests that students who resign membership of their students’ union should only lose rights related to democracy.

Allen went on to say the issue was whether CUSU and the GU could deny services to students based on whether their JCR or MCR is disaffiliated, to which the answer is no.

Despite this, CUSU and the GU’s proposal says that students who individually disaffiliate under the new system would not be allowed to access to “Front desk services”, including thesis binding and the cycle shop. When asked by Varsity how this element of the proposal could be compatible with the law and existing guidance, Allen said “it’s called a proposal”.

Despite the range of this evening’s debate, this is unlikely to be the last time Council discusses the way CUSU is funded.

When questioned by Darwin College Students’ Association (DCSA) President Elaine Gray about whether CUSU Council will have another chance to vote on the final proposals, Doku said CUSU and the GU “will at the earliest possible convenience relay back”, adding that in addition to the Bursars’ Committee, CUSU would also have to seek the approval of the University before the changes are brought into effect.

Gray said she needed to know “how [the changed model is] going to effect my money from my students.