The University of Oxford will stay open despite the introduction of a national lockdown from Thursday.
As an educational institution, Oxford will continue to offer some in-person teaching. Planned in-person exams will go ahead in a COVID-secure setting and libraries will remain open.
The Oxford branch of the University and College Union (UCU) has written an open letter to the Vice-Chancellor demanding that all non-essential teaching moves online.
It calls on Oxford to follow SAGE advice which recommended universities transfer all teaching online unless face-to-face teaching is “absolutely essential”. Only teaching which involves practical or lab work should continue in person, Oxford UCU says.
It also calls for asymptomatic testing and for publicly available statistics on case numbers as they occur.
The letter, which has over 100 signatures, says: “Community members, the City Council, and businesses have worked hard to keep Oxford safe over the summer. It is now time for the University of Oxford to step up and play its part.
“We, as local residents, are concerned that the University’s activities will see a further escalation of cases, worsening the public health emergency and increasing the potential for local lockdowns.
“Oxford is one of the most unequal cities in the UK. The University has a responsibility to protect the community that lives alongside it. If the University is unable to demonstrate that it can ensure the safety of its staff, students, and the wider community, then it should cease all face-to-face activities.”
In an email to students, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Martin Williams confirmed that Oxford will not change its teaching policy in light of new restrictions. Final Honours Chemistry exams will still take place in the Examination Schools. However, Oxford University museums will close and restrictions on sport are expected.
Unlike the last lockdown, educational institutions can stay open and are exempt from some restrictions. The lockdown will last until 2nd December, three days before the official end of Michaelmas Term.
Some universities, such as King’s College London and Sheffield Hallam, have moved non-essential teaching online. The national UCU body has written to all Vice-Chancellors in England to request they adopt this measure.
The University reported 212 cases among students and staff for the week 24th-30th October. Across the city, Oxford has 135 cases per 100,000 people. This is below the average area in England, which has 153 cases, according to the BBC.
Aris Katzourakis, co-Vice-President of Oxford UCU, told Cherwell: “Oxford UCU has been pushing for the safest possible working conditions for its staff, the students, and the wider community. Over the summer, we have been trying to ensure these conditions, both for those that have been onsite throughout, but also for the beginning of term.
“As term approached, seeing the clear epidemiological situation, we have been arguing that as much teaching as possible should be done online, and that it was unnecessary to force students to return whether it was essential for them to do so or not.
“We are deeply disappointed by Monday’s announcement by the Vice-Chancellor that in person teaching is to continue despite the lockdown. We have written an open letter and urge all those who are concerned with the levels of in person teaching to sign it.”
A University statement said: “The University will continue to offer a mix of in-person and online teaching, in line with Government guidance for the new lockdown. Planned in-person examinations will also continue to be administered in a COVID-secure setting, and libraries will remain open, as will our parks and gardens. We will have to close our museums to the public, and there will likely be additional restrictions to sport – details of which will follow in the near future.
Oxford UCU has reaffirmed that the University should make COVID-19 related risk assessments available to staff unions. In August, the University said it is not “practical or useful to share all risk assessments with the Oxford UCU” and that it had met with unions frequently to discuss health and safety.
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