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University announces provisional Trinity term arrangements

Image source: John Fielding on Flickr

The University of Oxford has announced provisional plans for Trinity term 2021 today, including a continuation of blanket residency requirement exemptions and self-certification of mitigating circumstances for extensions and late submissions of assessments.

In an email to students, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education), Martin Williams, outlined plans for assessment and a proposed return to Oxford in Trinity term. However, the email also noted that much of these plans hinge on further university decisions and government decisions on the easing of the national lockdown.

For example, on assessment, Williams reiterated the University’s prior decision that most examinations will take place via Inspera, described as a “modern, flexible platform” for assessments. A decision on whether the few exams still planned to take place in person will go ahead is expected “in Week 8 of Hilary term.”

On residency next term, it was announced that “if you are able to return, we will strongly encourage you to return to Oxford in Trinity term to attend in-person teaching and practical work”. Similarly to assessment plans, though, this will be dependent on “Government guidance, which we expect to be published in the week beginning 22 February.”

Nonetheless, the University may offer further certainty on how examiners will take into account the variety of circumstances caused by Covid-19 when marking whole cohorts’ submissions. Perhaps the key feature of this advice to examiners from the University will be to “review average marks at paper level, and scale them to bring them more into line with expected outcomes and previous years’ results”. 

With regards to mitigating circumstances, the statement from the University said that students will be able to “submit a statement along with some submitted work to describe the impact of lack of access to in-person resources or activities has had on your submission”. Students will also be able to self-certify applications for deadline extensions and submit mitigating circumstances forms directly to the University rather than through colleges as is the norm.

Oxford’s Student Union welcomed the update in a statement, noting that “it remains an incredibly tough time for students”. The SU says that it “welcome[s] the news that the residency requirement will not be in place for Trinity Term providing clarity to students” but will “remain committed to actively lobbying and working closely with the University to ensure students get the best student experience possible next term whether they are in Oxford or studying remotely”. The SU also described the changes made to assessment procedures as testament to the success of “our fair outcomes for students campaign” and thanked students “who have been supporting the campaign so far.”

Oxford’s position on the return of students so as to facilitate face-to-face teaching is not one shared by all universities across the United Kingdom, or one necessarily endorsed by education unions. St Andrews’s vice-chancellor told The Times today that, despite the possible easing of restrictions ahead, “we do not believe it will be to a degree sufficient to allow us to bring large numbers of students back to St Andrews and provide comprehensive in-person education”. Likewise, the London School of Economics has said “all compulsory teaching, learning and assessments will be delivered online” for the rest of the academic year.

Meanwhile, David Chivall, President of Oxford Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) told The Blue earlier this week that a “return to routine face-to-face teaching increases the risk of transmission of the coronavirus, including that of recent variants of concern against which vaccines may be less effective.”

The University’s Press Office has been contacted for comment.