On Wednesday 11th November, the Government told universities to allocate departure dates during a “student travel window” between 3rd and 9th December, with a mass-testing programme rolling out between 30th November and 6th December, in order to minimise the risk of students spreading Covid-19 to other parts of the country.
Universities Minister Michelle Donelan, speaking on BBC Breakfast, said the week after the four-week national lockdown in England ends on 2 December was chosen because “students will pose a much-reduced risk to their loved ones and their community”.
Oxford has now confirmed some arrangements on a new dedicated information page. It states that if you have already planned to remain in Oxford over the Christmas Vacation (for example, some international students), you do not need to change your plans. If you live in a college, you should have already discussed this with your college. They go on to say that all colleges will be supportive and will work to ensure you have somewhere to stay if you need to remain in Oxford over the Christmas vacation, but charges may apply depending on your College, though some Colleges are offering discounted rates for vacation residence. Arrangement will need to be made in advance, both for the sake of college’s planning and for students who need to organise travel or book plane tickets.
The University warned that, in line with Government guidance, if you do not travel home by 9 December and become infected with COVID-19, you will need to self-isolate in Oxford, and may be unable to travel home by Christmas Day. This echoes the Universities minister, who said that anyone who develops symptoms on or before 9th December will still “have enough time to isolate and then return home for Christmas”, but students are strongly encouraged to return in this window.
Christ Church college has given all of its students fixed slots to move out of college during, beginning from the 3rd December. The college’s Steward wrote to all households on site on Tuesday, telling them that ‘unfortunately, due to the government guidelines, we are unable to be flexible with departure dates and times. Students must depart within their allocated time with their household groups.’ Balliol has also given students the chance to book a moving-out slot, on a first come first served basis.
Many colleges are now preparing to host a large number of both international and domestic students over the Christmas vacation. Jesus has told its students that anyone who wants or needs to stay over the Christmas vacation will be able to, with no questions asked. However, St John’s college has told all of its students that they must vacate their rooms by Saturday of 8th week, unless they cannot return home due to border restrictions or are subject to an extended Michaelmas term (some 4th year chemists and biochemists).
The college’s Academic Administrator wrote to students that “this decision has been taken so that we can make sure College staff are able to enjoy a well-deserved break after a busy Michaelmas term and before returning to prepare for the beginning of Hilary.”
“We also think it’s important that students take a break from what has been a difficult term for everyone and spend some time in a different environment before the New Year.”
The implementation of a mass-testing program for students between the 30th November – 6th December was a “complementary element” to this travel window. According to the BBC, these tests promise a fast turnaround and “results within an hour”. The distribution is set to begin at the end of November, and universities in areas with higher rates of the disease will be prioritised.
Any student who tests positive with the mass-testing kits will have to take another test and, if found to be infectious, have to stay in isolation. Covid positive students will be required to self-isolate at their current residence for 10 days under the current guidelines before being able to return home
The test kits will be provided free-of-charge to universities, which will have to provide a place for the tests to be carried out. It is not yet known whether this will be the existing testing sites in Headington or the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, or if new sites will be set up on a smaller scale, and the University has said that they are “exploring how best to provide tests for students in line with this guidance.”
The University has also given some clarification for teaching and learning, which have been mandated to move to entirely online after 9th December. They expect that undergraduate and taught postgraduate teaching will continue to take place in line with existing arrangements until the end of term on Friday 4 December, and any teaching scheduled to take place after the 9th will have clarification from your department, similarly if any teaching was scheduled between 5th-8th December that might change format.
There are also specific arrangements likely to be in place for clinical medical students.
Research laboratories and libraries are expected to remain open until the University closure period on Saturday 19 December. Postgraduate research students will be able to continue in-person research activities if they cannot reasonably be conducted from home. However, the University said that, where possible, research should be carried out at home, or without gathering with others.
The University hopes that “all students will be able to return to Oxford for Hilary term” with no anticipated changes to Hilary term dates.
“We are currently considering the policy for residency, and dispensation from the residency requirements, in Hilary term. We appreciate the importance of timely and clear guidance on this matter, and will publish further information as soon as possible.
“If you need to self-isolate after the vacation (for example, if you are an international student returning from a country that is not on the travel corridor list), your college will aim to support you in doing so. Please speak to your college as soon as possible if you think this will be the case.”