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University confirms delayed return for most students

Most students will not return for Hilary Term until at least the 25th January, Oxford University has announced.

A statement on the University’s website said: “We are looking forward to welcoming students back to Oxford in Hilary term. We want to help make the most of your Oxford experience, within the constraints of the pandemic.

On Wednesday 30 December, the UK Government published new guidance about which students are allowed to return to universities in the New Year.

In line with Government guidance, only very specific groups of taught students will be permitted to return to Oxford from 4 January.  All other taught students are advised not to travel back to university until at least 25 January, with all teaching taking place online until at least that point.

If you are taking part in initial teacher training or medicine courses, you should return to Oxford as indicated previously. Students on a small number of additional courses (for example, some of those with professional accreditations) may be invited to come back to Oxford earlier than other students. Further guidance will follow on this next week.” 

The University also noted that there were specific exemptions, for example for international students who have remained at Oxford or cannot change their travel plans, for those who remained in Oxford over the vacation and for individuals who require additional support or access to study spaces. Guidance about completing three lateral flow tests on arrival remains unchanged.

The announcement comes after the government’s plans for students’ return to university were changed following the continuing rise in coronavirus cases across the country. The Universities Minister said that due to “early and concerning evidence on a new variant and the extension of Tier 4 restrictions to a number of regions of the country” the return of most students would be delayed until at least the 25 January, with plans for a staggered return of students following this date.

While this decision has been made on a University level, some colleges already informed their students of the delayed return. In an email from New College, students are also told that “there are some more decisions to be made at a University level on Monday. So further College advice will be issued early next week”. For international students, New confirmed that “you will not be required to reorganise your travel to the UK if this has already been booked”.

Charging arrangements for Hilary Term are yet to be decided but New’s email notes that “it is usual not to charge for accommodation or catering if UK rules do not permit students return to accommodation”. University College has already pledged not to charge students rent for the time they are not permitted to be in student accommodation while an email from Lady Margaret Hall confirms that “Oxford colleges including LMH are continuing to work on the principle that students will not usually be charged for any accommodation where a College is not able to provide it on account of UK rules, or a related policy of the University”.

Jan Royall, Principal of Somerville College, insisted that she would encourage all students who needed to return to do so: “I will do everything possible to ensure that students whose home circumstances make it difficult to study will be able to return as soon as possible”. She also urged caution: “For those of you wishing to book rail tickets on a specific date for your return to Oxford, I would strongly advise you not to for the moment”.

The Dean of St Hilda’s outlined reasons for returning to College prior to 25 January and urged students “to think carefully about whether you need to return before 25th January. College services will be available to support students who are resident, but College will not be fully open and services may only be available on a limited basis to reflect the government guidance to reduce mixing to a minimum”.

In an email sent to all students, Professor Martin Williams, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor, and Miles Young, who chairs the Conference of Colleges, wrote: “We realise that this last-minute change of arrangements provides yet further uncertainty in an already difficult year. We had some very good news this week about the approval of the Oxford vaccine for use in the UK. This provides us hope that we will be able to return to a more normal studying environment later in the year, but, for now, we would like to thank you for your patience as we work through this difficult period”.

Following this, the Student Union issued a statement saying they “welcome  the University of Oxford’s recent statement to all students on the start of Hilary Term following the recent government announcement.

“We are in regular contact with senior leaders across the collegiate University to ensure student views are prioritised at the highest level and next week will be highlighting student concerns at the key University groups we are members of including Education Steering Group and Hilary and Trinity Co-ordination group

“Following today’s update from the University we expect colleges to provide further updates to their students including around accommodation. Our view is that students unable to return to Oxford in Hilary Term 2021 should not be financially penalised; students should not have to pay for accommodation that they are unable to live in.  

“This year remains incredibly difficult for all students and this must be recognised by the University in their academic expectations of students. We were pleased to secure a continuation fees grace period for Postgraduate research students. We look forward to working with the University to ensure student learning and assessment isn’t disadvantaged due to the pandemic.  

“We know that the uncertainty around returning is challenging and we continue to encourage the collegiate University to communicate promptly and openly so that students can remain up to date. We are pleased the University have committed to updating students next week shortly after key decisions are made. “

The Student Union also included links to their student advice service, which reopens from January 4th, and the COVID-19 hardship fund.

This is a breaking article and will be updated as new information becomes available.

01/01/21, 14:22 – Updated to include communication from the Student Union.

01/01/21, 14:58 – Updated to include communication from St Hilda’s and Lady Margaret Hall.

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