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    In my researching and general ponderings on going to Oxford uni next year I convinced myself it would be a good idea to join the Oxford Union at some point in fresher's week (and make the most of the cheaper membership fee thing) From it's website it looks really good; debates, interesting guest speakers and social events.

    Recently I've seen a lot of criticism of the Oxford Union so I thought I'd ask what people's opinions were here? For or against as it were?
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    Hmm...I think it all depends on how much you would use it. If you're into going to speakers/networking evenings/special events etc then by all means, sign yourself up, but if you're only going to the cheap bar once in a while then it might not be worth the membership fee (which I think is very very steep, even for life membership). I've been to heaps of events at the Union as guests of members and I reckon I'm going to join next year but I know of loads of people who aren't members and this hasn't inhibited their university experience in the slightest.

    Not too into this whole 'hack' idea though - I'm going to keep well clear at election time.
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    It's just down the road from Pembroke, so well worth it in my opinion. The bar is cheap, and very nice (good cocktails for £2.30) We tend to start nights out there quite often, and its good on a weekend, when fewer places are open. The PT (the Union nightclub) is a bit of a hole though, but again, it can be useful on weekends when not much is open.
    Plus there are some interesting speakers, and often the debates are pretty good too! If you are going to join, I'd suggest doing it early, you'll get sent a leaflet at some point over the summer (or I did last year anyway) with a reduced rate - its a good plan to do this, as they usually put the most popular speakers on early in the year. Last year they had Pierce Brosnan and Michael Douglas for the first two weeks.
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    Nay.
    Has been a waste of my money so far.

    But I'm not against it in principle, or would form a picket line at the gates advising impressionable freshers not to part with their money or anything - I imagine some do get their money's worth - say, in alcohol if an invite to Pres' Drinks finds its way to them...
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    Um. Nay.

    Unless you are a real socialite or have loads of time to waste on guest speakers and debates I doubt you'll ever get your money's worth. I went once for the bar and, if memory serves, had to pay a bit on the door for not having a card. Even if you go often, it'd still be cheaper.
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    Pete's Test: Is the Union value for money?
    Value = ((Celebs + drinks + events + rentals - Hacking) x Free stuff) / Elections

    1. Add together the number of a) celebrity speakers you’ve seen, b) drinks you’ve had in the Union bar, c) number of balls and social events you’ve attended, d) books or DVDs rented from the library, e) times you've played on the snooker tables.
    2. Subtract from this the number of times you’ve hacked or been hacked for a vote.
    3. Multiply the total by the number of times you’ve been to President’s Drinks, speaker dinners or other free events with booze. If you’ve never been to any, just multiply by 1.
    4. Divide this by the number of times you’ve stood for election or been directly involved in the electoral process.

    0 – 75: No value for money
    75 – 125: Average value for money
    125+: Great value for money


    Let’s take Henry Fossington-Smyth, an ambitious Union hack. In his first year, Henry only attended a few debates with celebrities he recognised (+4) and borrowed nothing from the library (+0). He did, however, drink heavily in the bar for hacking purposes (+96) and duly attended every Union ball and some social events (+8). Being an ambitious hack, he himself hacked for votes on numerous occasions (-45), giving him a total of 63. He was invited to President’s Drinks roughly twice a term (x6). Nevertheless, he stood for election every term (/3) giving him a grand total of 126. Even at the end of his first year, Henry would conclude that the Union was great value for money.

    On the other hand there’s Laura Brown, a first-year medic who only joined because all her friends were doing it. She saw quite a few celebrities in her first two terms but saw none in Trinity due to exams (+18). She had a few coffees in the Union bar (+12), borrowed some medical textbooks and a DVD from the library (+5) and went to one ball and a couple of other events (+3), but a friend in college asked for her vote every term (-3), giving her a total of 35. Not knowing any important Union hacks, she has never been invited to any events with free alcohol, but being a medic has also never had the time to stand for election. Her grand total is 35: Laura would feel that, at the end of her first year at least, the Union was not value for money, but it might be by the end of her degree.

    Try it yourself!
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    I get 144. I'd like to point out that I'm not a hack though, any that number is high because of a)the vast quantity of alcohol I've had at the bar, and b) tagging along to an event with a slightly more ambitious and politically minded friend. Although there's no doubt that a lot of people at the union are there because they've read 'Social networking for dummies/rahs', you can go and enjoy it without getting involved in that side of it.
    I guess this is largely due to the fact that about a three minute walk from my college... I guess for many other colleges though, there would not be this advantage.
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    My score would be something like 5, after three years. Complete waste of money. Though you should also count use of the snooker tables.
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    Peter, that is one brilliant generator
    Can't be bothered to work out my score, but I'd say it would be low. Debates = boring. Lots of celebrity speakers on the termcard but they're always TBC and then cancel. Pierce Brosnan had a queue going round about 2 corners, so I didn't bother. You have to pay for a ticket to the balls anyway, and the Blenheim Palace ball should have really been called the 'Blenheim Conservatory with not enough alcohol and lots of rain to boot Ball' (poor Ben Tansey, such a shame). The bar is good but I could think of other places to hang out if I wasn't a member. For me the only enjoyment is Pressie's (which I did not take full advantage of last term), and election time, when the hack gossip is most interesting.

    So it's totally not worth the money, but I'm glad I joined.
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    So it's totally not worth the money, but I'm glad I joined.
    Interesting but conflicting conclusion
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    (Original post by PsychologyJen)
    Peter, that is one brilliant generator
    Can't be bothered to work out my score, but I'd say it would be low. Debates = boring. Lots of celebrity speakers on the termcard but they're always TBC and then cancel. Pierce Brosnan had a queue going round about 2 corners, so I didn't bother. You have to pay for a ticket to the balls anyway, and the Blenheim Palace ball should have really been called the 'Blenheim Conservatory with not enough alcohol and lots of rain to boot Ball' (poor Ben Tansey, such a shame). The bar is good but I could think of other places to hang out if I wasn't a member. For me the only enjoyment is Pressie's (which I did not take full advantage of last term), and election time, when the hack gossip is most interesting.

    So it's totally not worth the money, but I'm glad I joined.
    Did you not go to the one with male strippers?
    There are very long queues for the good people - but if you have the patience I think it's worth it!
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    I got 4 by Peter's generator... and I've only got one more year left at Oxford (unless I end up staying for clinical school). And I'd have to concur with the conclusion that it's absolutely not been worth the money for me. I'm a medic, so I rarely find the time to queue for hours to see a celebrity speaker, and I've only been to 2 debates because they tend to end quite late and, because I'm at Hilda's, getting home safely is an issue. Being a geek, I don't fit into the social scene at all, so not only have I never stood for election, but I'm also not close friends with any hacks (although I did like poor Sabina very much; such a shame, what happened to her), so I've never been invited to Pressie's or any other event with free booze. My college library has a good collection of fiction, and my departmental library is sex on legs, so I've never needed to use the library other than twice for cheap DVD rental. I went to one ball, because I had a pretty dress I wanted an excuse to wear more than once, but it was, as Jen said above, held in a conservatory and when the free wine ran out, the only option was to use the cash bar, which charged me about £7 for a double spirit and mixer. And I wouldn't even have gone to that ball if I'd not had a friend who was going to be queueing for four hours for tickets anyway and didn't mind getting me a ticket while she was there. I tried to use the Union bar a couple of times in my first year just for the sake of recouping some of the membership fee, but always felt awkward and out-of-place amongst the rahs and socialites.

    I might get more value for money in my third year, because my boyfriend (who's ex-public school, surprise surprise) likes the Union and goes there fairly often. Which I suppose serves to illustrate the point that it's very difficult to work out, before you go to Oxford, whether joining the Union represents value for money. You can't be sure what kind of friends you'll make, or whether your JCR will have a free DVD library, or whether you'll have friends who want to queue with you for four hours to get ball tickets or see a famous speaker. To a large extent you won't even be able to determine that after the first two weeks (in which the membership fee is discounted). So IMO it's pretty hard to predict whether the Union is worth joining or not. It's something best worked out retrospectively. Personally, I'd say, if the membership fee isn't a big deal, then join, but if you'd have to struggle and make sacrifices to find the money, then don't bother.

    Edited to say: thanks for the anon rep, whoever you are <3
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    rahs and socialites
    Could anyone explain what they are?
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    How much does it cost to join it?

    Can you pay to see speakers on the door or anything?
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    Rah Socialite

    Life membership: £190
    Access scheme (if you receive a government grant): £138

    Open period for freshers (until 2nd Week of Michaelmas)
    Life membership: £170
    Access scheme: £99

    On top of this there's a compulsory termly charge for the termcard, but I can't remember how much that is, roughly £30 over three years I think. If you're not a member, you can pay £3 to get into the bar, but you have to be a member to see speakers/debates.
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    I'm really glad I joined. I didn't go at all in Trinity because I had so much work etc but went loads in Michaelmas and Hilary, including to Pierce Brosnan, Michael Douglas, Natalie Portman, George Galloway, Emma Watson etc. Plus to some interesting debates including one about the Tory party where Michael Howard was one of the speakers. As well as the debates and speakers I also had lunch with friends at the Union bar where prices are very reasonable, and once the only copy left of a book I needed was in the Union library. I think it's good value for money.
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    (Original post by Quistis)
    I got 4 by Peter's generator... and I've only got one more year left at Oxford (unless I end up staying for clinical school). And I'd have to concur with the conclusion that it's absolutely not been worth the money for me. I'm a medic, so I rarely find the time to queue for hours to see a celebrity speaker, and I've only been to 2 debates because they tend to end quite late and, because I'm at Hilda's, getting home safely is an issue. Being a geek, I don't fit into the social scene at all, so not only have I never stood for election, but I'm also not close friends with any hacks (although I did like poor Sabina very much; such a shame, what happened to her), so I've never been invited to Pressie's or any other event with free booze. My college library has a good collection of fiction, and my departmental library is sex on legs, so I've never needed to use the library other than twice for cheap DVD rental. I went to one ball, because I had a pretty dress I wanted an excuse to wear more than once, but it was, as Jen said above, held in a conservatory and when the free wine ran out, the only option was to use the cash bar, which charged me about £7 for a double spirit and mixer. And I wouldn't even have gone to that ball if I'd not had a friend who was going to be queueing for four hours for tickets anyway and didn't mind getting me a ticket while she was there. I tried to use the Union bar a couple of times in my first year just for the sake of recouping some of the membership fee, but always felt awkward and out-of-place amongst the rahs and socialites.

    I might get more value for money in my third year, because my boyfriend (who's ex-public school, surprise surprise) likes the Union and goes there fairly often. Which I suppose serves to illustrate the point that it's very difficult to work out, before you go to Oxford, whether joining the Union represents value for money. You can't be sure what kind of friends you'll make, or whether your JCR will have a free DVD library, or whether you'll have friends who want to queue with you for four hours to get ball tickets or see a famous speaker. To a large extent you won't even be able to determine that after the first two weeks (in which the membership fee is discounted). So IMO it's pretty hard to predict whether the Union is worth joining or not. It's something best worked out retrospectively. Personally, I'd say, if the membership fee isn't a big deal, then join, but if you'd have to struggle and make sacrifices to find the money, then don't bother.

    Edited to say: thanks for the anon rep, whoever you are <3
    What happened to Sabina?

    I would say if your college is near to the union defintiely join up, we use it a lot for pre-drinks before going out.
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    (Original post by emsxxx)
    What happened to Sabina?

    I would say if your college is near to the union defintiely join up, we use it a lot for pre-drinks before going out.
    Deliberately not using her surname so this doesn't show up on Google - she was a first year medic at my college who got onto first Seccies and then Standing, but sadly failed two Prelims papers then failed one of the resits, and so was sent down. I only mentioned her because I'd said I wasn't close to any Union types, and didn't want anyone who knew she was in my college, in my subject, in my year to assume that I didn't like her, because I really did. I considered her a good friend, but I saw her mostly within the confines of academia rather than socialising with her. I shouldn't have bothered mentioning her at all; I was just worried that anyone who knew us both would interpret it as a slight if I didn't.

    And I agree with your point that college location is a big factor - I suspect that if I wasn't stuck out in the wilds of East Oxford I'd pop into the library more, and my friends would drink there more...

    edited to turn this into a big cuddly moral lesson: Prelims failure is rare but does happen, so while you should definitely get stuck into lots of extracurriculars in your first year, and otherwise have fun, do make sure you don't neglect your work. Three years of moderate fun interspersed with lashings of hard work, culminating in an Oxford degree, is a far more desirable outcome than having a fantastic first year but doing so little work you get kicked out, or indeed just annoy your tutor so much that he/she won't write you a good reference when you need one...
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    I heart Sabina (and most Union Asian girls, ahem.. :p:)
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    Wow. Thanks for such a great response everybody! I even got an equation! Hooray!

    Hmm... a lot to weigh up.
 
 
 
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