End of an era: subfusc could be sent down

By Jessica Goodman

celebrations in subfusc

New proposals put to the Student Union Council could lead to the abolition of sub-fusc

The traditional sight of students attending exams in full academic dress could soon be a thing of the past after the university indicated this week it is considering abolishing subfusc. For centuries Oxford students have been forced to wear suits and gowns whilst taking their exams, and indeed the image of the formally-dressed finalist has become something of an icon for tourists.

Rules for academic dress are set out in university statutes as, for men: “a dark suit and socks, black shoes, a white bow tie, and plain white shirt and collar,” and for women: “a dark skirt or trousers, a white blouse, black tie, black stockings and shoes, and, if desired, a dark coat.” The tradition has been in place since the Victorian era, and was originally intended to symbolise students’ membership of the university.

However, in a recent series of meetings with student leaders senior university staff have said that if the student body indicates it is against the wearing of subfusc during exams, the dress code will be made voluntary, effectively abolishing it. A motion has been brought to Friday’s OUSU Council meeting which notes: “Some of the university administration have indicated that they are prepared to make subfusc voluntary if it can be demonstrated to be the wish of the student body.

If the motion is successful the question will be put to students in a poll later this term, to enable the Student Union to return to university authorities with a clearer view.

The move is thought to have been in part motivated by a desire to put a stop to the practice of ‘trashing’, in which students finishing their exams are sprayed with substances like champagne, flour, and beans as they exit Exam Schools Two years ago the university announced a clamp-down on such behaviour, however the introduction of spot-fines of up to £70 had little effect on the finalists of 2004, who were responsible for a post-exam clean-up bill that ran into the thousands.

University staff hope allowing students to wear their own clothes would make them less likely to throw messy substances, although The Oxford Student understands that even if full academic dress were abolished for exams, students would still be expected to wear their gown over their casual clothing. There are also arguments that making the occasion less formal would lessen the stress burden upon students, and reduce the intimidating image of Oxford for potential applicants.

The last time this issue was raised by the Student Union, in Michaelmas 2002, the then VP (Access and Academic Affairs), Sonia Sodha told OUSU Council: “It’s difficult convincing people from non traditional backgrounds to apply to Oxford. If we abolish subfusc it could help change people’s perceptions, and it’s a small change for us to make.

19th Jan 2006