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Oxford to rent lecture theatres for corporate events despite many lectures staying online

Oxford University is renting out lecture theatres for conferences while many lectures remain online, The Oxford Blue can reveal. 

Oxford’s Conferences and Venues website has most colleges and University spaces available to rent this term, including Examination Schools and the Sheldonian Theatre.

Exam Schools can hold up to 440 people, the Sheldonian 750, and the Ashmolean can take 900, it has been advertised. 

There is no indication of whether masks, proof of negative test or vaccine will be required for attendees, or whether they will need to socially distance. 

A spokesperson for the Events team said: “We will be operating events in line with whatever the University’s business continuity planning stage is at the time.”

This news comes as departments diverge on lecture provision for Michaelmas Term. An email sent to mathematics students on 21st July stated that all mathematics undergraduate lectures for the first three years would be pre-recorded. 

In contrast, politics students were informed on 20th July that “almost all lectures will be face to face.” 

Many departments are yet to inform their students of this year’s lecture provision, however most Russell Group universities plan to continue with blended learning in 2021.

The announcement of the availability of full-capacity venues is in contrast to the University’s current requirements for students to wear masks and socially distance, despite neither being a legal requirement in England in most settings.

Oxford University Events said: ​​”Some of the OUEV venues are available to hire on week days, during term time.  This is only possible once all academic commitments have been prioritised i.e. in person teaching and exams.”

Regarding in-person teaching, a spokesperson for the University said: 

“Pending the ever-evolving pandemic and government advice, it’s our intention that face-to-face will become the predominant method of teaching again at the earliest opportunity. We are currently engaging with departments to assess their readiness for the coming year, and cannot comment on the details of a department’s plans at this stage.”

Warwick University has made a similar decision, and plans to rent out its 1200-person lecture theatre for corporate events, despite all student lectures over 50 people remaining online.Education Minister Gavin Williamson has said that he expects universities to offer in-person teaching this autumn. The Education Secretary may also back calls for tuition fee refunds if universities ignore the recommendations.

Illustration by Mia Clement