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The University and Student Union have today updated students on measures that will be in place for Hilary term, including waived residency requirements and exemptions for some students to return.
An email sent by the University today announced that the University has been moved to Stage 3 of its business continuity planning framework. This means that while buildings will remain open for research and the small amount of in-person teaching that is allowed under the national restrictions, the majority of teaching will be moved online.
Those with exams that due to strict regulatory requirements must be in-person are likely to remain in-person, but the majority of examinations for the term will be moved online. Departments will be in touch with students soon to inform them of any changes.
Oxford’s SU’s latest statement has offered more clarity for students. The residency requirement for Hilary term will be lifted, students with specific needs can return to colleges, and that rent for unused accommodation will be avoided in most cases.
📣Important update from your SU Sabbatical Officers📣
Check the latest info from the Uni: https://t.co/EfEwNPepHN
Unless you have agreed with your college that you meet the Uni criteria or you’ve got in-person teaching, you must not come back to Oxford until at least mid-Feb. pic.twitter.com/aEREplUmUS
— Oxford SU (@OxfordStudents) January 6, 2021
The lifting of the residency requirement will mean a blanket dispensation for all students for the whole term, meaning no one will have to apply to get the requirement waived.
In a second major win for students, the SU has also secured the ability of students to return to colleges for specific reasons. Some students, such as those on initial teacher training and clincal medicine students, have already been advised to return for Hilary. However, those not on one of those courses who wish to return should, “discuss their plans with their college before returning”, according to the university, and return only if they have a qualifying reason.
“Unless you have agreed with your college that you meet the strict criteria already provided, or your department informs you that you can return for in-person teaching, you must not come back to Oxford until at least mid-February. We will be in touch when we are able to provide more information about return dates.”
The approved reasons include students requiring additional support and students lacking a study space at home. Other reasons for returning include being an international student who has already planned travel that could not be re-booked, or being a student who has stayed in college over the break.
Acknowledging concern regarding the consistency of the application of the policy, the SU stated that it will “continue to call for the collegiate University to ensure this is applied consistently across colleges”.
On another positive note, a significant number of colleges have also ensured that students will not have to pay for accommodation that they will not be living in. Responding to this, the SU said that, “we would like to thank colleges for recognising this issue and acting swiftly”.
However, this is only applicable for students living in college, and the SU has said that it will continue work towards securing that graduate students with long-term tenancies are also not forced to pay rent for houses they do not live in.
Other changes made by the university include libraries being opened online and a small number of ‘hub’ libraries being bookable for study spaces. The Bodleian will also be restoring access to the Hathi Trust Service, which gives access to an additional 1.6 million in-copyright eBooks.
However, many issues regarding the academic experience of Hilary term and beyond are still unresolved. While it is certain that most Hilary term assessments up until mid-February will move online, many aspects of exams and teaching beyond that still remain unclear.
This was acknowledged by the SU: “We believe that the University must recognise the academic challenges by reassessing workloads and assessment practices”. The SU will seek to implement a strengthened individual mitigating circumstances process as well as a fair handling of cohort level challenges by departments.
However, the SU has also acknowledged the complexity of the task, “given the diversity and linearity of many Oxford courses”.
Still, the SU also echoed the anger and frustration some students feel by stating that, “we share your valid anger, frustration, and disappointment with this government”.
The SU finished off its statement by telling students that, “we are here to support you in any way we can” as well as appealing to students that students should “continue to contact us [the SU]… with questions you want answered and action you want the University to take”.
Image Credit: Iona Shen