Oxford SU last week launched a campaign in response to the University of Oxford’s plans for how teaching and examinations will proceed in a second academic year affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The ‘Fair Outcomes for Students’ campaign is designed to ensure that students are not disadvantaged individually, or at a cohort level, as a result of disruptions to learning caused by Covid-19. 

A key part of updated University policy that the campaign seeks to address is the University’s ruling out of a ‘safety net’ policy equivalent to the one introduced last Trinity. Oxford SU argues that the traditional sense of this as a no-detriment policy based on previously “banked work pre-pandemic” is unfair because Prelims results are not an adequate predictor of students’ Finals grades, while collections are not uniform across colleges.

Instead, the SU proposes that cohorts as a whole should be protected by a process that they call ‘rescaling’. This would mean that if exam or coursework results were lower on average than in pre-pandemic years they could be scaled up en masse to produce more typical, representative marks. 

The SU also proposes ‘re-weighting’, whereby students could choose to change the weighting between coursework and exam-based grading for their degree, but with the knowledge that if this resulted in them being disadvantaged at the end of the process, they could not drop below the grade that the normal weighting would have produced.

These are two of the biggest of the Students’ Union’s proposals among a suite of others, including self-certification of mitigating circumstances applications and the cancellation of preliminary examinations for first-year undergraduates.

Oxford SU might see the effect of this campaign already in an email sent to students by the University today which acknowledged the need for “cohort level” action to prevent students from being “disadvantaged”. What action the University will take to this end is not yet known, but campaigners may take heart from the University using the campaign’s language when discussing how to move forward.

As 1st Week begins, teaching will be conducted online with access to libraries severely reduced. The University today told students in an email that libraries will continue to “focus on remote services”, with the Sackler Library, Social Science Library and Vere Harmsworth Library all set to close from 18 January. 

According to the most recent updates, the Christmas vacation loan period has been extended to Friday 29 January. Students who have not returned to Oxford will be expected to use a free University postal service via Royal Mail to return borrowed books by that date. The University hopes that “access to physical library space” can be “extended” later in term, but students studying remotely will have to rely on online resources for the time being. The Bodleian Libraries have confirmed that an “emergency access arrangement” with HathiTrust Digital Library has been reinstated, facilitating online access to 1.5 million items.

Read the joint editorial calling for a fair ‘no-detriment policy’ written by The Oxford Blue, The Oxford Student and Cherwell here. The Oxford SU “Fair Outcomes for Students” campaign can be found here.

Oxford SU has been contacted for comment.

Image credits: Nils Lindner on Unsplash

Mitchell Marshall

Mitch (he/ him) is Editor-in-Chief for Trinity term 2021 as well as a long-suffering Sunderland fan, keen runner and general sports obsessive. His other interests include indie music, arthouse cinema, and coffee.