The Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, Martin Williams, has written to Oxford students today to outline preparations for their anticipated return in the autumn, as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

The email, which was sent on Thursday morning, announces the creation of a new section of the Oxford University website, which provides information about arrangements for the 2020/21 academic year as the University and colleges work to contain the potential spread of COVID-19 next term.

The Pro-Vice-Chancellor warns that “the pandemic will still be with us in the autumn, and will continue to affect university activities” but adds that “the arrangements we are putting place will support a positive and safe student experience at Oxford as this unprecedented situation continues to unfold”.

Key takeaways from the update include:

1. Teaching in person to return, but will remain partially online

The website confirms that “in-person teaching” will be in place from the start of the academic year “when it is safe for both students and staff” and where it is possible to conduct teaching in tutorials and seminars. However, “engaging online lectures and activities” will supplement face-to-face tuition. Face coverings will be required during in-person teaching and in shared indoor spaces, except for when exemptions are in place.

2. Matriculation to go online

A famous aspect of becoming an Oxford student, the traditional ceremony – which is usually held in the Sheldonian Theatre at the end of 1st Week – will be replaced by an online “formal welcome” event hosted by the Vice Chancellor, “incorporating many of the traditions of the existing ceremony, but in a virtual form”.

3. ‘Households’ confirmed for accommodation

The update confirms that the University plans to group students into “households” where multiple people share “high-contact facilities” like kitchens and bathrooms within their college accommodation. In the event of students needing to self-isolate both before and during term time, the University will “provide support in either your college or University graduate accommodation

4. Cleaning regimes and hygiene measures to be stepped up

The University will provide more handwashing facilities and adapt spaces to “ensure social distancing and appropriate ventilation, with clear signage and markings”. Libraries will also employ social distancing measures, and a “seat-finder” app will make it easier for readers to find spaces. Perspex screens will also be installed “in areas where social distancing is more difficult such as in laboratories”.

5. Uncertainty remains about other aspects of student life

The University says that it is “currently reviewing” college life beyond accommodation, with plans yet to be announced relating to common rooms, dining halls and college bars. The website adds that “services will only be reopened in line with government guidance and health advice”.

6. Coronavirus testing to be in place by September

A special testing service, managed by the university and the NHS, will provide “easy access” to COVID-19 tests for staff and students. There will be a testing site in central Oxford and another in Headington. Results for the tests will be available within 24 hours, and the University will be working with Public Health England to carry out ‘test and trace’ measures.

7. Students to sign a ‘charter’ of responsibilities

Upon arriving in Oxford for the new term, students will be asked to sign a “charter” which will outline their responsibilities and what is expected of them by the University as the Oxford community adjusts to a new way of living and studying. More information about the charter will be released before Michaelmas.

8. Students expected back in Oxford, but residency exemption possible

Normal residence requirements remain unaffected, so students will be expected to be physically back in Oxford for Michaelmas term. However, the University recognises that “arriving for the start of Michaelmas term may not be possible for some students” and invites students to approach their college or department to discuss residency exemption should “personal circumstances” make returning difficult.

Further clarifications about what Michaelmas 2020 will look like are expected over the remainder of the summer.

Oliver Shaw

Oliver (he/him) is one of the Editors-in-Chief of The Oxford Blue for the winter vacation and Hilary 2021. Oliver is from Warwickshire and is in his final year studying History at Merton College.