Current Affairs

Caviar for quarantine? St Anne’s email chain fiasco for international students

“But are we providing caviar though?” These are the words of one staff member from St Anne’s, commenting on the cost of quarantining at the college as an international student for two weeks, which in total comes to nearly £40 a day.

“Not at £12.68!” comes the reply, referencing food costs per day.

In an email sent to St Anne’s undergraduates yesterday, and seen by The Oxford Blue, recipients not only received the news that they might have to pay £548.10 for a two-week locked-down stay at the college, but also a chain of emails among several staff members, deliberating on how best to break the news.

One staff member was cautious about creating a, “minor scandal,” as has happened at Oriel College, they say, after it was revealed that students facing quarantine there would have to pay £400 for food delivered to their door. However, the same staff member continued, “I think £548.10 for both [accommodation and food] is rather less offensive.”

Currently many international students are now struggling to book expensive last-minute flights back to the UK two weeks earlier than they planned. Students’ anxieties about returning and travelling to Oxford for the upcoming year were encapsulated in one of the emails in the chain, which revealed that if a Fresher international student did not receive an email regarding the college’s quarantine plans within the next day, “they simply won’t be able to secure a flight that gets them here early enough to quarantine before term.”

The email was sent on the same day as a letter (which has now been signed by over 680 students) was written to Vice-Chancellor Prof. Louise Richardson, calling upon Oxford colleges to be more transparent with international students regarding quarantine measures on their arrival into the UK ahead of Michaelmas term and to “take the welfare of their incoming and returning international students as seriously as possible, without seeking short-term financial gain at their expense.”.

In the email addressed to St Anne’s undergraduates the college writes: “We know you are keen and possibly anxious to understand arrangements for next term.”

The email states: “Monday of 0th week is 5th October and quarantine needs to have been completed by 3rd October 2020 at the latest, so arrangements are in place for the beginning of Michaelmas Term 2020. We would therefore ask that you make arrangements to enter quarantine in the UK between 12th and 19th September 2020 if at all possible.”

Students, “who will be resident in College will be provided with an en-suite room on site for this period of quarantine to ensure minimal contact between students and Scouts. In addition, food including hot meals will be delivered to your door daily by College staff in line with arrangements that worked well in Trinity Term.” It also added that students would not be able to access belongings placed in storage over the summer.

The email continues; “Food, accommodation and general advice and support from the College for the two week quarantine period will be charged at £548.10, inclusive. We are aware that there may be some students suffering financial hardship who may find it difficult to finance an additional two weeks’ accommodation.”

The email also adds: “We recognise that this will be a difficult period of isolation and thus College welfare support will be available throughout this time and continued into the term and the vacation beyond. The Welfare Team under the oversight of the Welfare Dean will provide contact with you each day during the isolation period. Should you become unwell, the nurse will also be available.”

Further, it states: “If you are strictly unable to return to the UK because of travel restrictions or health concerns covered by the University’s emergency exemptions, you will not be required to be in College during term time and will continue to work remotely as in Trinity Term, until you are safely able to come back to Oxford.”

It would appear that an early draft of the email did not include specific information about the cost of the two-week quarantine. One staff member wrote in the chain on the day before the email was sent, “I am wondering if it should say something about food and accommodation costs for quarantine.”

They added: “As I understand it, this will be £548.10 including both food and accommodation. Cheaper than outside but not insignificant.” For 14 days, this comes to £39.15 per day.

In response to the enquiry about caviar, hinting at concerns over the cost of the quarantine for students, a staff member replied, “If they need financial support they can apply for it.”

Another point which drew concern from St Anne’s students who were accidentally included in the email chain was a comment made by one staff member regarding welfare. The staff member wrote: “I have some concerns about saying to the grads that the welfare dean will be required to check in with those isolating every day – this could quickly become an unmanageable task for Kirren (who whilst willing to come back early isn’t actually confirmed back until the 23rd Sept)….. Could we just say she is available in the grad letter?”

Thus, it appears that although undergraduates may be checked upon every day by the welfare team, this does not seem to be the case for graduate students also quarantining in the college.

Whilst the situation for many undergraduates has caused great concern, for graduate students the problem of arriving in Oxford is approaching even faster. As one staff member notes; “If we send a similar letter to grads the dates will need to be different as many courses start in September, so potentially people will need to arrive really quite soon.”

In response to The Oxford Blue, Jay Gilbert, St Anne’s Communications Officer said: “Since March of this year St Anne’s College has worked extremely hard to honour its commitment to students who either had no other home to return to, or who were unable to travel, to continue to provide accommodation, a full meal service, clean and safe facilities, and welfare and practical support throughout every stage of the pandemic.”

“To support those who are unable to quarantine elsewhere in the UK we will enable them to do so in the supported environment of the College. If the financial costs of this cause difficulty then we will work with those individuals to find an agreed outcome.”

Gilbert added: “Students in quarantine or isolation do put additional demands on College resources that we do our utmost to meet in the best and most supportive ways possible.”

“The accommodation cost per night is £26.25 which is standard for an ensuite college room next term. You have added food charges into your calculation, which is incorrect. These are £12.90 per day for three meals delivered to the door. I think you might agree that private and catering accommodation would be much more expensive.”

Max Spokes

Max (he/him) is Environment News Editor at The Oxford Blue for Michaelmas 2020. He is in his second year studying History and Politics at Balliol.