Oxford SU Council votes in support of waiving residency requirements for Hilary 2021

Image Description: An aerial view of Radcliffe Square 

The SU Council has voted in favour of a motion in supporting demands from students that the University should waive its residency requirements for the foreseeable future. However, the University stands by its stance that it will not lift residency requirements in Hilary term, citing “the educational and wider benefits of being in both the University and the city.”

The Council voted with 38 votes in support of the motion, 3 Against and 3 Abstentions, reaching the required two-thirds majority to pass.

The motion came in response to a statement made by the University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Martin Williams, on 17 November. The statement confirmed that residency requirements will remain in place for Hilary term 2021.

This means that undergraduates will be expected to reside within six miles of Carfax Tower for at least six weeks of the term and will be unable to study remotely from outside Oxford. Postgraduate taught students must live within twenty-five miles of Carfax Tower for at least six weeks of the term with requirements for postgraduate research students being more lenient. Students who do not want to return to Oxford would have to apply to the proctors for individual residency exemption, but any who have already been granted residency exemption for Michaelmas term do not need to re-apply.

Following the passage of the motion, the SU Council has committed itself to mandate the Oxford SU President to seek the waiving of residency requirements. The SU President will sign a forthcoming petition, drafted by the proposers of the motion. This petition will then also be circulated to students. In addition to this, the President will lobby the university to waive the residency requirement for all students from Hilary term 2021 until the end of the pandemic.

In passing the motion, the Council recognised that students should be able to choose what is best for themselves and their families in light of the pandemic. The motion also included calls for the University to develop a formulation for online labs wherever possible, following the lead of other universities.

The motion was proposed by Rashmi Samant, an international student at Linacre College and was seconded by Benjamin Fernando, a student at St Edmund Hall. Regarding her motivations for proposing the motion, Rashmi said:

“I am just getting out of my second round of quarantine tomorrow since our household had a positive case. And I know many friends who have had to go through many rounds of quarantine over the course of the semester due to similar reasons. There is no point in being ‘at Oxford’ to self-isolate for most of the time. I personally feel like I would have been in a better mental space had I been at home if I had to do multiple quarantines since the classes have moved online anyway.

“[International students] are in limbo about travelling back home during Christmas break since if we do go back and we can’t come back in due to shifting scenarios, the residency requirement will hang over us. While the university does waive it under exceptional cases it does not cover reasons like financial difficulties to get back due to sudden exponential increase in airfare etc. I am from India and I don’t think I will go home due to these uncertainties.

“A lot of my peers also had to go back home during the middle of the term (around the world) due to COVID related issues within their families and had to apply for exemption in the middle of everything they were going through. I think we could all use one less thing to worry about during these times and have the liberty to choose whether or not we want to attend our classes (the majority of which is online) from home.”

The University website states that the Proctors will consider applications on the additional grounds of:

  • Inability to travel because of government travel restrictions
  • Declared disability, including a mental health condition that can be defined as a disability
  • Health grounds, including vulnerability or increased susceptibility to infectious diseases

Applications on the following grounds will not normally be considered:

  • Changes to the mode of teaching and assessment introduced by the University in response to the pandemic
  • Quarantine requirements, social distancing or other arrangements put in place in response to Public Health England requirements
  • Financial difficulties

Benjamin Fernando added that the residency exemption list is “horrendous”, saying: “How cruel must you be to say that you are not going to grant exemptions because of Financial Difficulties? The COVID hardship funds are not instantaneously deployed, so some students are finding themselves in real trouble here.”

A University spokesperson said: “While we understand that things are very difficult this year, and have been particularly challenging for students, we have put a wide range of measures in place to ensure our students can safely make the most of Oxford University life. Residency requirements will therefore continue to be in place in Hilary term and we would encourage all students to live and study in Oxford throughout the academic year so that they can benefit from the educational and wider benefits of being in both the University and the city.

 “The overwhelming feedback, that those students who are in Oxford are enjoying their time here, supports this approach. Of course, we recognise that there are individual exceptional circumstances where remote learning is the only option for some students under COVID-19 pandemic grounds, and we will continue to consider these in a sensitive and supportive manner and to review our approach in-line with government guidance.”

Oxford Su International Students’ Campaign said, in a statement, that they are “disappointed by the University’s refusal to recognise the damaging impact current residency requirements can have on international students from different backgrounds and their disproportionate effects on those members of our Oxford community who are already suffering the most from the ongoing pandemic.”

“The option to apply for an exemption at the discretion of the Proctors is not a sufficient guarantee that all international students can continue to excel academically without worrying about the stringent and excessive burdens the University is placing on those of us who feel unable to come back to Oxford in Hilary. Trinity Term 2020, as well as many other universities across the country, has proven that it is perfectly feasible to allow students to join their tutorials, seminars and lectures from the safety of their homes.

They continued on, highlighting the fact that entirely online learning is possible and a reality for many students forced into compulsory self-isolation during the national lockdown, even if they do return to Oxford.

“To put international students at risk and to require them to pay often unreasonable fees for college self-isolation is both dangerous and irresponsible for a university which has proudly managed to create one of the means to ending the pandemic in the form of the recently announced vaccine. We urge the University to reconsider its choice to require students to return to Oxford in Hilary Term and ask that the University Officers take into account the successful measures implemented by many other higher education institutions in the UK.”

Image Credit: ahisgett via Creative Commons