Helping students make a difference at Oxford University Student Union

Oxford student union logo in mint green

The University of Oxford is the world's oldest English-speaking university. It has 22,000 students and is a member of the Russell Group. Oxford University Students’ Union (SU) joined MSL in 2012 and it has been an exciting 10 years! We spoke with Kate Dawson, Oxford SU CEO, to find out more about what Oxford SU has been doing to support their students, what they have planned for the future, and how their MSL System will support those plans.

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Oxford Students' Union




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What areas/services do your students engage with the most? Is this organic or down to what you push?

The students tend to find things themselves on our website that seem more obvious such as events. However, Oxford SU has noticed a snowball effect when promoting services and events that are supported by the MSL System; when they direct a student to one area, such as a campaign or promotion, they tend to become more engaged with the rest of the SU’s offerings.

It is not as common for the students to find everything for themselves, so it is important that we make them aware of what is available and push this online engagement.- Kate Dawson, Oxford SU CEO

What kind of things does Oxford SU do to promote the services and events on offer to the students?

Social media channels are usually the first port of call as most students are active users of social media making it cost-effective and accessible. Oxford SU also sends out a weekly email to all students to highlight “What’s happening at Oxford SU”, showcasing new services that are available for them to use. Kate describes Oxford SU’s ethos as a “pyramid of engagement”, with the aim is to continually increase engagement through different channels, with the eventual goal of running to be a student officer.

Kate explained that what students are looking for now is different compared to what students were looking for 10 years ago.

Students are looking for more support mechanisms and they are a lot more actively engaged with what is happening at Oxford University, and the impact they’re having on the rest of the world. Our students care about advice and advocacy, sustainability, and mental health. As a result of this, they are looking for tools that can help them support themselves and others and make real changes. - Kate Dawson, CEO of Oxford University Students' Union


What plans are you most excited about for Oxford SU in the coming months/years?

Oxford SU is looking to expand its training and development. Students hold employability high up in their priorities and the SU wants to support them with their endeavours to not only enhance their learning experience while they’re students but set them up with key soft skills for when they eventually leave the university.

Reward and recognition is so important to the students at Oxford, ensuring Oxford SU provides tangible reward and recognition relevant to students is at the heart of Oxford SU’s ethos.- Kate Dawson, Oxford SU CEO

How did the pandemic affect elections for Oxford SU?

One of the challenges Oxford SU has experienced is the face-to-face handover of knowledge from students to students, there are many student representatives who have missed out on the opportunity to learn how to run in elections and organise events as they haven’t been able to oversee what current/previous student peers have been doing.

Oxford SU was expecting lower engagement from both candidates and voters but moving the majority of resources to fully online resolved this and, as a result of this preparation, Oxford SU had the highest turnout yet with their elections process. Kate explained that even though the pandemic meant in-person activities couldn’t go ahead, the silver lining was that all students were indoors and engaging more with online content, as well as Oxford SU playing such a pivotal role in decisions being made as a result of the pandemic.

What role does advice and advocacy play for Oxford SU?

The students and student officers at Oxford SU are really keen to make a difference and this covers many areas including mental health support. There is an increased demand for these support areas and the student officers are aware of this and doing everything they can to make these areas as accessible as possible. Kate explained that every student has different needs and being able to access advice without a ‘formal’ structure could be incredibly helpful to some of the students, utilising different methods of providing and giving advice, through chat functions or larger activations.

What form did freshers take for Oxford SU this year?

The Oxford SU freshers fair moved venue this year and was doubled in size, around 9,000 students attended the events – which is amazing! After years of not being able to meet people in person and attend events, students were itching to get out and socialize and that was made very clear by the incredible turnout.

Students absolutely wanted in-person activities to resume, they wanted to connect and meet with people and we gave them that opportunity.- Kate Dawson, Oxford SU CEO

What new plans do you have for next year’s freshers?

Last year was an undeniable success so Oxford SU is looking to do similar sorts of activities next year, but bigger and better. At Oxford SU there is great importance placed on connectedness and particularly around underrepresented groups, it is essential that everyone has the opportunity to meet like-minded individuals and Oxford SU is dedicated to creating those opportunities and supporting the students in feeling welcomed to Oxford University. With a growing international student population, it is more important than ever to nurture an environment for students to easily find people they have common interests with- and the freshers fair does just that!

MSL is excited to see what the 2022-23 academic year holds for Oxford SU and its members, starting with what will be undoubtedly a great Freshers Fair.

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