About The Union

    The Dalai Lama

The Union is the world's most prestigious debating society, with an unparalleled reputation for bringing international guests and speakers to Oxford. It has been established for 189 years, aiming to promote debate and discussion not just in Oxford University, but across the globe.

The Union is steeped in history. It was founded in 1823 as a forum for discussion and debate, at a time when the free exchange of ideas was a notion foreign to the restrictive University authorities. It soon became the only place for students to discuss political topics whilst at Oxford. W.E. Gladstone, later to become one of the greatest British Prime Minsiters, was one of the leading figures of the Union's early years. Gladstone was President of the Union in 1830, shortly before entering the House of Commons. Many others have followed him into politics, and the Union can boast dozens of former members who have been active in its affairs whilst at Oxford and then gone to become both nationally and internationally prominent figures.

The Centre of the University

Oxford University's collegiate nature produces a real need for a central student venue, and the Oxford Union is the institution which meets this need. Our buildings in the city centre houses not only high-profile speakers, but also the largest university wide lending library, one of the cheapest bars, a nightclub and many of the year's major social events. The Oxford Union is the definitive place for students to meet and socialise.

Gerry Adams argues for the unification of Ireland

At the Cutting Edge of Controversy

Unlike other student unions, the Oxford Union holds no political views. Instead, the Union is a forum for debate and the discussion of controversial issues. For example; in the 1960s, Malcolm X came to the Union and demanded black empowerment "by any means necessary". In the 1970s, Richard Nixon in his first public speech after Watergate admitted, "I screwed up - and I paid the price. In the 1980s, Gerry Adams, still under his television ban, addressed the Union's members. In Michaelmas 1996, O. J. Simpson made his only public speech in Britain after the controversial "not guilty" verdict in his criminal trial. The Oxford Union believes first and foremost in freedom of speech: nothing more, nothing less.

Sir Edward Heath and  Norman Tebbit clash over Europe

Worldwide Impact

The Oxford Union has been at the centre of controversial debate throughout its history. As the most prominent debating platform outside Westminster it is no surprise debates have been unrivalled in their quality and impact. One of the most famous motions, "This House will under no circumstances fight for King and Country", was passed in 1933 by 275 votes to 153. The result sparked off a national outcry in the press, and Winston Churchill denounced it as "that abject, squalid, shameless avowal" and "this ever shameful motion"; some say that the result encouraged Hitler in his decision to invade Europe. In 1975, days before the referendum on EEC membership, the motion "This House would say 'Yes' to Europe" was carried by 493 votes to 92. This debate was arguably a considerable influence on the referendum result.

In the words of Michael Heseltine, the Union has "managed to absorb the greatest diversity, the wildest firebrands, the most outspoken and non-conformist people." Diversity and outspokeness, central to the Union's foundation, remain its guiding principles to this day.

Term Card

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If you have any questions or requests about this term please do not hesitate to get in touch at president@oxford-union.org. You can join all year round, so if you're not a member yet - don't worry as it's not too late!