The University of Oxford is holding meetings at the time of writing in which it will decide the fate of the University’s facilities and of students hoping to return to Oxford during the new national lockdown.
After last night’s announcement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the University and its colleges have rapid decisions to make on residency requirements, rent, catering, international students, libraries and assessments.
Many students remain unsure about when they will be able to return to Oxford and how examination marking procedures will be affected by the latest lockdown. Many colleges have also yet to offer guidance about residency and students’ return.
The Government has previously asked universities to stagger the return of students to campuses across January. On 1 January, three days before the latest lockdown was announced, the University of Oxford said that students would be advised to stay at home until at least 25 January.
The UK Government website now says that most students will “start their term online, as facilitated by their university until at least mid-February”.
Students studying courses related to medicine, dentistry, veterinary science, social work and teaching – or courses that require PRSB assessments – will be permitted to return earlier than others.
Those instructions may be relatively straightforward for students in some disciplines. But those who study subjects with high levels of practical content – including art and performing arts – and students who require access to library resources and source material for assessments, may struggle to carry out their studies from home. This makes news on the status of libraries and such facilities eagerly awaited.
Mansfield College’s Principal, Helen Mountfield QC, sent an email to students earlier today which offered a “holding message” while decisions are taken. While Mountforld said that the college was “working through the implications of yesterday’s announcement at speed”, the key message of the email was that “students should stay where they are for now”.
This is echoed in communications between students and staff across several colleges. Balliol said: “Do not return to college until further notice”.
Similarly, Keble College’s Domestic Bursar told one student to expect “all travel arrangements to be cancelled” while hinting at further University communications to be expected imminently. Merton College students were told to expect further information on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Christ Church today told students to expect further information about exemptions “in the next 24-36 hours”. The college added that students can return to Oxford if they are travelling from abroad “in the next day or two” and already have permission to return.
Mansfield College’s correspondence implies the possibility of some students being allowed to return under exceptional circumstances, or at least the willingness to argue the case of these students to the broader University.
However, the other notices given to students as outlined above suggests that students generally should not expect to return to Oxford soon, even if they had previously been told that they could do so for mental health reasons.
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