Eastern Eye (UK)

‘I want to build an Oxford that works for everyone’



A BRITISH ASIAN student who has been elected as the president of the Oxford student union said he wants to “create a sense of empathy” at the prestigiou­s university so that “everyone has an understand­ing of what it’s like to come to Oxford from a lowincome background”.

Danial Hussain, 21, grew up in a singlepare­nt home in Bradford and attended the local state comprehens­ive school before securing a place at Oxford.

His father worked in a factory and was also employed as a driver in the northern city.

Hussain recalled how life changed for their family when his father fell ill in 2008.

“My dad had a stroke when I was six years old; it left the left side of his body paralysed and meant he was unable to work.” Two years later, Hussain’s father passed away. “That changed everything,” he said. “My mum worked tirelessly to raise five kids on her own.”

Hussain attended his local state-comprehens­ive school and decided to aspire for Oxbridge. “I still remember when I first conceived of applying for Oxford after my GCSE results in 2018. I clicked on the PPE (politics, philosophy and economics) course and had goosebumps. I knew it would have a longterm impact on my life.”

Hussain made an applicatio­n, but admitted when interviewi­ng that he had “a strong sense of imposter syndrome” and was rejected. However, he had a second chance. Since 2016, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, has run a “foundation year” programme to enable students from under-represente­d background­s to reach their academic potential.

Students can apply and have to be accepted for full-time degree study. Hussain’s English teacher, who had researched this programme, encouraged him to apply.

After a rigorous applicatio­n process and interview, he was accepted at Oxford – one of a cohort of eight in the programme in 2020.

Hussain began as a fully matriculat­ed student of the university a year later. “Being at Oxford for me is a surreal experience that I’m incredibly grateful for” Hussain said.

He became involved with student societies, chairing both the university Labour Club and the student union’s class act campaign, which lobbies on behalf of working class, low income, first generation and state comprehens­ive school background­s.

In his run for president, he secured 921 votes to beat four other candidates.

Hussain will take up the role beginning this summer for the upcoming 2023-24 year.

He outlined his ambition during his term as president. “I often hear that Oxford is in a state of inertia – that it has never changed and it never will. But, personally, I don’t believe that. If that was true, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have had the opportunit­y to have some of the best years of my life.”

In his manifesto, Hussain pledged commitment­s such as reducing the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to mandating BAME and class awareness workshops for freshers.

“Oxford’s come a long way, but in terms of BAME issues and class issues, there’s a lack of understand­ing and ignorance – rather than overt racism and classism,” he said.

“We need to speak to those from the majority background – not with a sense of condemnati­on but that of openness.

“I think if you approach the conversati­on as ‘this is my experience as a BAME student’ that’s way more powerful.

“In most activities I’ve been part of, I was the only brown person and the only Muslim person there… sometimes you have to be in the room to realise that having these conversati­ons is important.”

His presidenti­al campaign was endorsed by Oxford University Labour Club whose current chair, Ella Staddon, said, “Through his actions, Danial has proved time and again that he practises what he preaches about creating a more equitable environmen­t for all students at this university, and it is for these reasons OULC is proud to endorse him for student union president.”

Hussain wants to use his personal experience as a driver for change.

“I’ve endeavoure­d to give back to those who come from marginalis­ed background­s like me. It’s why I got involved with the Class Act Campaign and the University Labour Club and it’s why I want to lobby the university to bridge college disparitie­s which impact the most underprivi­leged students.

“I want to make sure everyone has an understand­ing of what it’s like to come to Oxford from a low-income background to create a sense of empathy.”

Hussain also wants to make sure the Foundation Year has a positive reputation around the university and isn’t just seen as a “backdoor” to Oxford.

“I feel a sense of duty and responsibi­lity towards the Foundation Year. I never want someone who’s Pakistani or Muslim or from the north or from a low income background to think that they can’t get into Oxford. And that if they do get in, they can’t thrive.”

From this upcoming academic year, the Foundation Year provision at the university will be expanded to 10 colleges and run centrally.

Hussain said, “There are a lot of people like me who haven’t had the best start in life and I don’t want them to think that this defines them. I want to build an Oxford that works for everyone”.

He paid tribute to his mother, saying, “I wouldn’t be where I am today without her. It was hard, and we weren’t rich, but I never felt that growing up because my mum never let me feel that I was any less.”

His upbringing has shaped who he is today, Hussain said.

“I take a lot of my resilience and my strength from my mum. I feel a desire to work hard so that my mum can be proud and feel like her sacrifice was worth it.”

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 ?? ?? ASPIRATION­S: Danial Husain; and (inset right) with British politician Edward Miliband
ASPIRATION­S: Danial Husain; and (inset right) with British politician Edward Miliband

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