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The Oxford Union is an extraordinary place No other student society in the world boasts such distinguished speakers from such a variety of fields. Our members have the opportunity to engage with leaders in politics, business, science, religion, music, sport, film, fashion, and writing on an almost daily basis. Indeed, the Union is more than a promotional stage for celebrities, being foremost a debating society. Our members are able to confront the world’s most prominent people on pressing and controversial issues during individual speaker addresses and our weekly debates. Nowhere else in Oxford are students empowered in this way. The Union also serves as a vibrant social hub, and puts on a number of social events. This includes the Union ball, one of the most impressive yet inexpensive balls in Oxford. Furthermore, the inhouse bar, snooker room, and TV area ensure members are not confined to the social bubble that is their college, but have access to a wider community. Our beautiful library, historic reading rooms, and extensive archival collections afford a scholarly and comfortable working environment, cherished all the more by members during exam season! These reasons lie at the heart of why we believe we are the world’s best student society. This guide provides a detailed introduction to all the opportunities the Union offers its members. Over and above benefiting from our facilities and events, joining the Oxford Union means having the right to witness and participate in the free exchange of ideas at an extraordinary place. Crucially, this guide tells you how to join.




1823isatofa great time when the free exchangeItofwas ideas was a notion to thefor restrictive TheFounded Oxford in Union historical significance. founded in 1823foreign as a forum open debate, challenging certain normsUnion imposed by the in restrictive University authorities times. university authorities, the Oxford is immersed history. From early on, it becameof thethe only place It soon became the onlytoplace forpolitical students collectively to discuss political W.E. Gladstoneis in Oxford for students discuss topics and controversial issues freely.topics. Its early development — later to become one of the most eminent British Prime Ministers, serving no fewer than four accredited W.of E. the Gladstone became theUnion’s Society’s President in 1830, andwas is now considered times — was to one leadingwho figures of the early years. Gladstone President of theto Union in 1830, shortly beforePrime entering the House Commons. Totothis day, the Unionits continues be one of Britain’s greatest Ministers. To this of day, it continues function through founding to principles championofitsfree founding free speech and open Uniquely, it is still run entirely speechprinciples and open of debate, and uniquely is stilldebate. run entirely by a democratically elected by a democratically elected body of students. body of student members.

Alumni ALUMNI The Union boasts dozens of former members that have been active in its affairs while at Oxford The Union hason anto illustrious of alumni. Five former BritishFive Prime Ministers (Gladstone, Salisbury, and then gone becomecollection internationally renowned figures. former British Prime Ministers (Gladstone, Salisbury, and Asquith, Macmillan, and Heath) and several foreign political leaders including Asquith, Macmillan Heath) and several foreign political leaders, including Benazir Bhutto (former Benazir Bhutto – Pakistan’s first female Prime Minister – have served as Officers of the Union. President of Pakistan) and Solomon Bandaranaike (former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka) have been officers Numerous high profile figures across the political spectrum have held positions in the Union, of the Union. high profile figures across the political spectrum have Widdecombe, held positions inand the including: Boris Numerous Johnson, Tony Benn, Michael Heseltine, Michael Foot, Anne William to name but a few. OurBenn, alumni have Heseltine, regularly gone on Foot, to succeed in fields outside Union,Hague, including Boris Johnson, Tony Michael Michael Anne Widdecombe and of politics, such as literature and broadcasting. Dennis Potter, Robin Day, Jeffrey Archer, and Tariq William Hague, to name but a few. Nevertheless, the Union's alumni have also gone on to succeed Ali were all involved in running the society. outside politics in fields such as literature and broadcasting, as demonstrated by Dennis Potter,

Robin Day, Jeffrey Archer and Tariq Ali.





Politics A key aspect of the Union is hosting leading political figures from around the world. Senator Robert Kennedy’s visit in the 1960s blazed a trail for America’s political heavyweights. In subsequent years, the Union hosted Presidents Nixon, Carter, and Reagan. Indeed, it was at the Oxford Union where President Nixon first publicly apologised for the Watergate scandal. No other student organisation allows its members to confront directly some of the globe’s foremost powerbrokers. While still banned from appearing on television, Gerry Adams proposed the reunification of Ireland at the Union, Colonel Gaddafi argued for a new African Union via a live video stream linked to our chamber, and more recently, Marine Le Pen was asked incisive questions by our members regarding the accusations of xenophobia levelled at her party. To ensure fair and rigorous debate, the Union aims to host speakers from across the geo-political spectrum, and always provides an opportunity during events for our members to challenge the speaker. However, it is not all about controversy, and politicians of the highest calibre have spoken on a variety of contemporary issues: Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn, Nigel Farage, David Miliband, Theresa May, Prime Minister David Cameron, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharaff, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, and Australian Prime Ministers John Howard and Kevin Rudd are some such examples.


SPEAKERS Science The interests of the student body are diverse; our term card seeks to reflect this fact. As a result, along with the political leaders, come those from the world of science. Albert Einstein’s 1933 visit set a precedent for a great tradition of scientific figures visiting the Union, while recent terms have boasted: Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Buzz Aldrin, John Ellis, Lord Robert Winston, Dr Jane Goodhall, Simon Singh and Baroness Greenfield. Often these talks are followed by book signings, and therefore an opportunity to meet the speaker.

Religion We have hosted prominent religious figures such as Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Our debates often concern the most pressing issues surrounding religion. Topics such as the existence of God, the relationship (if any) between religion and extremism, and the interplay between faith and politics have preoccupied our chamber in recent terms.

Business In addition to termly debates on business-related topics such as the viability of socialism, and the morality of Wall Street, we host a number of world business leaders. From tech billionaires Jack Dorsey, Peter Thiel, and Eric Schmidt to television business moguls Deborah Meaden and James Caan, the array of entrepreneurial talent we host is unparalleled by any student society.

Arts and Journalism During his recent visit to the Union, Stephen Fry delivered an Oscar Wildeinfused account of his own life, eliciting tears of laughter from a captivated audience. Imperilled author Salman Rushdie, and literary legend Phillip Pullman have both given equally enthralling talks. From journalism, we have been joined by such luminaries as Sir Michael Parkinson, Jon Snow, Nick Robinson, Andrew Neill, David Aaronovitch, and former editor in chief of the Observer, Will Hutton.


SPEAKERS Music In 2001, Michael Jackson chose the Union to make his first public speech in over a decade. More recently, A$AP Rocky, Gerard Way, Nick Jonas, Eric Whitacre, and Emeli Sandé have all spoken. Indeed, our members are often treated to intimate concerts: Billy Joel, Katie Melua, Ne-Yo, and Snow Patrol each delivered intimate performances in the chamber when they visited.

Film and Entertainment From veteran thespians to Hollywood’s giants, when it comes to esteemed actors the Union’s record is remarkable. We have heard from: Morgan Freeman, Johnny Depp, Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ben Kingsley, Emma Watson, Pierce Brosnan, Natalie Portman, Zach Braff and many more. However, this is not just an opportunity to ask about their latest blockbuster: in one of the most riveting talks to date, Sir Ian McKellen described, with a dramatic presence only a Shakespearean stage actor would be capable of, his lifelong support for the gay rights movement in the United Kingdom.

Sport In one of the more comical controversies of recent times, our chamber has borne witness to FIFA President Sepp Blatter impersonating Cristiano Ronaldo, inspiring an online frenzy and a reaction from the player himself. Along with footballing legends such as Sir Geoff Hurst and Diego Maradona, the Union has hosted Rugby World Cup Winners Lawrence Dallaglio and Will Greenwood, cricket superstars Brian Lara, Andrew Strauss and Geoffrey Boycott, as well as Wimbledon king, Boris Becker.



Weekly Debates The Oxford Union was founded as a debating society, and indeed debating remains at the core of what we do. Every Thursday evening during term the Union hosts one of its main debates. Speeches from many of these can be found online, and often attract significant media attention worldwide. However, nothing compares to witnessing our famous debates live; the atmosphere is always stirring as world experts argue passionately about their conflicting beliefs. In recent debates, Mehdi Hassan described why Islam is a religion of peace, and Angela Davis argued that extremism in defence of liberty is no vice to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Malcolm X’s visit to the Union. During every debate, our members are given a chance to have their say. Not only can students speak alongside guest speakers, but members of the audience can challenge points that have been made when the debate is opened up to the floor; the outcome of many a debate has been swung by an impassioned student speech. Results are determined by how many students walk out the door marked ‘Ayes’, and the door marked ‘Noes’, in much the same way as done at the House of Commons. Each of our main debates is preceded by an ‘Emergency Debate’ – a smaller scale, student only affair about a particularly current topic. This provides an opportunity for our members to hone their debating skills, and speak their mind in a more relaxed environment than the forthcoming main debate. Many seasoned Union debaters and contributors first took to the floor during an Emergency Debate.



Debates with Impact Debates at the Oxford Union have left their mark on the world. The outcomes reached and powerful words spoken resonate beyond the University. In 1933, the Union passed its famous motion, “This House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country”, causing a maelstrom of political and public ire; indeed, Winston Churchill called it, “that abject, squalid, shameless avowal”. In 1975, the passaging of the motion, “This House would say yes to Europe” with 493 ayes to 92 noes reportedly had a considerable influence on the national referendum concerning the UK’s membership of the EEC, given that the debate was held and televised only a few days before the vote. To this day, the Union remains the principal forum for national and international debate. Though public figures regard an invitation to speak at the Union as an honour, they are expected to defend their views on equal terms with any member who cares to challenge them.

The Art of Debating On top of our famed Thursday night debates, the Union holds weekly debating workshops. Whether you want to just brush up on your public speaking skills or compete at international level, there is a suitable program for you. With the world’s best debaters as coaches, the transformation from novice to competition winner is fast. Indeed, the Union’s debating teams compete at the highest level. Multiple Oxford debating teams have won at the European and World University Debating championships, and at many inter-varsity competitions within the United Kingdom. All travel expenses for debaters are covered by the Union – an additional incentive to get involved!



The Union Ball The Union Ball is one of the most affordable yet lavish events in Oxford. At recent balls our chamber has played host to the largest silent disco in Oxford, and the courtyard has boasted a vodka luge sculpted as the Eiffel Tower. If dancing and drinking are not your thing, food galore and live performances guarantee a night you do not want to miss.

Regular Socials In addition to the Ball, the Union puts on a number of different socials during term. Our ‘Jazz and Champagne’ nights, frequent pub quizzes, and black tie events mark the Union as one of the most socially vibrant spaces in Oxford. These events are inexpensive despite the array of food, drink, and live music on offer.

The Purple Turtle Located in the cellars of the Union, the Purple Turtle (the ‘PT’) is the most central and also one of the cheapest student clubs in Oxford. It is open every day of the week, and free to all members of the Oxford Union. It is almost exclusively populated by students and members, making it the best place to meet old and new friends.




Originally the Society’s debating chamber, the Union Library boasts an impressive collection in a The Union Library is amongst the most beautiful in Oxford. Pre-Raphaelite murals adorn the walls, breathtaking environment. The murals adorning its walls were painted by none other than William paintedand between 1859-75 by Rossetti, artists including William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones andofGabriella Rosetti. Morris Dante Gabriel and retain the stunning vibrancy typical Pre-Raphaelite art. Library’s are stocked works crossing academicbefore disciplines, providing The The Library was inshelves fact initially built aswith the Union’s DebatingallChamber the present largera convenient solution when college and faculty libraries have been stripped of popular texts. This Chamber was constructed in 1878. additional supply of academic resources located in the centre of town is invaluable. The Union Library alsois has a range place of non-academic resources, it from University Our Member’s Library a wonderful in which to work. Since distinguishing your College library is unlikely to institutions. Magazines, guides, newspapers, contemporary are found in have all the books on yourtravel reading list, and books from and Faculty libraries tendfiction to be over-borrowed abundance. There is also a diverse selection of DVDs available to members, including classics, new and hence unavailable, the Union Library provides a useful additional supply of academic releases, andoften the best of international cinema. resources in the centre of town. Open Wi-Fi alongside a collection of comfortable armchairs and individually lit desks contribute to an environment conducive to both study and casual page turning. The Library is run and kept up to Unlike the main university library, the Bodleian, members can take books out from our Library. Moreover, date by a committee open to all members. Stock suggestions are responded to very quickly meaning it is the only Oxford library with non-academic resources, fromismagazines newspapers, that while the beauty of the space remains constant, theranging collection continuallyand renovated. The Union Library is undoubtedly one guides. of the most usefulalso andstocks spectacular spaces in Oxford. to contemporary fiction and travel The Library a diverse selection of DVDs available

to members, which includes both classic and modern British and International films. The Library is continually kept up-to-date by our Library Committee which meets every week. We respond quickly to members’ suggestions to ensure your needs are met. The Union also provides free wireless Internet connection throughout the building.

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BAR THE BAR The Members’ Bar is a unique venue in the very heart of the city, and is

Few places in Central Oxford are classy and affordable – the Members’ oneis of thePerfect Union’sforbig attractions. excellent Bar both. a quiet coffee, aBoasting light lunch, or an value eveningdrinks, drink, members canthanks enjoy to high food and beverages student particularly ourquality outstanding weekly specialatoffers, theprices. bar isOur a lunchtime menu has recently been updated, boasting a delicious selection of vibrant central venue to meet friends from other colleges. homemade options. Much like a hall of fame, the Members’ Bar is decorated with memorabilia from past guests. You never know who you might meet in It isMembers’ not only Bar, decorated with memorabilia from pasta guests but members current the and current speakers often share drink with when addressing the often Society. placesharing to meet friends celebrities, the famous speakers can be A found a drink withand members during Members’ Bar is truly unique.

their visits to the society. With a members’ discount of 25% on all food and

drink, all day every day,Time) the bar is the ideal place for a quiet coffee, a late Opening hours (Term Monday – Wednesday: night pint, and everything in between. As well as a daytime menu of light 10am until midnight meals, the bar also serves snacks throughout the day. Thursday – Saturday: 10am until 2am Sunday: 10.30pm Opening12pm hoursuntil (Term Time) Monday - Wednesday: 10am until midnight Thursday - Saturday: 10am until 2am Sunday: 12pm until 10.30pm

GARDENS Located just outside the bar, the Union gardens provide a calm oasis in

Gardens the centre of bustling Oxford and are a great place to enjoy the sun and relax with a cool drink in the summer, especially around exam season.

Located just outside the bar, the Union gardens provide a calm place to relax in the centre of bustling Oxford. Whether you are enjoying a hot chocolate in the winter or a cool drink in summer, the Union gardens are a welcome space all year round.


With two full-sized snooker tables, the Union remains the only place in Central Oxford to be able to offer its members a practice space as well as a social venue.

TELEVISION ROOM The Union’s TV Room, with widescreen digital TV, DVD and video facilities, has proved popular with members, especially for big sporting occasions.

Television Room Members can also choose to work in this quiet space during the day.

The Union’s TV Room, with widescreen digital TV, DVD and video facilities, has proved popular with members, especially for big sporting occasions. When the television is not in use, members can also choose to work in this quiet space during the day.




Why does it cost? The Oxford Union receives no financial support from the Government and is independent of the University. Therefore, the funds raised from Membership fees cover all our running costs. The Union is non-profit and democratically governed by and for its members.

What does it cost? If you join by the end of Freshers’ Fortnight — Thursday 22nd October — you are entitled to our discounted fee of £223 (10% off). On top of this, you will also get a £10 bar voucher, 5GB of free Dropbox space and free DVD rental. The full cost of joining after Freshers’ Fortnight is £248. Though this may seem expensive, it works out at only £25 per term for a three-year course and £19 per term for a four-year course. Membership may also be paid monthly.

Financial Alternatives The Union’s Access Scheme offers a very significant discount for those who receive a full maintenance grant. With the Freshers’ Fair discount this costs £133. The full cost of joining after Freshers’ Fortnight is £148. There are also a number of price options for various groups such as visiting students. There is also an Educational Affiliation available to University Members, which gives entitlement to the educational activities only. To request an Access Scheme Form, or to enquire further about our alternative membership options, please email enquiries@oxford-union. org or call 01865241353. 18


Who Joins? A majority of freshers join the Union when they arrive at Oxford, and certainly before the end of the Freshers’ Fortnight (Thursday 22nd October). There is no stereotypical Union member – it is a democratic and meritocratic organisation. Your background and political views are not a concern when you join, nor if you wish to run for election to the committee.

How to Join There are three ways to do this; firstly, online at Secondly, you can complete the enclosed form and post it back to us, with payment (your membership card will be waiting for you to collect at the General Office). Thirdly, you can come to the General Office at the Union itself.


Contacts : 01865 241 353 Contacts: 01865 241 353 20


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Oxford Union Freshers' Guide 2015