In an email to students, Balliol College confirmed that “the University has removed the usual student “residency requirement” for the whole of the Term”. This means that students will not need to apply for residency dispensation if they do not wish to return to Oxford later in the term, even if the national lockdown is lifted to allow students to return. In a Q and A with University staff in mid-November, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Martin Williams explained the University’s previous decision to maintain residency requirements: “Our feeling is that there is a lot more to being an Oxford student than just the face-to-face teaching”, including “access to labs, access to libraries, access to each other, to the opportunity to work in a scholarly environment”. Balliol’s email continued that “the University will be sending out messages to students later today on the latest position”. No information has currently been provided regarding plans for residency requirements – or lack thereof – in Trinity term.
Beyond residency, the provision of facilities like libraries have also prompted confusion. Centrally, only 4 selected hub libraries – the Old Bodleian, Social Science Library, Sackler Library and Vere Harmsworth Library – are open for study before the start of Hilary. In a tweet, the Bodleian Libraries confirmed that, despite lockdown regulations, these libraries would remain open: “Following the government’s announcement regarding lockdown, we can confirm that our services remain the same as yesterday”. However, the Radcliffe Camera and Gladstone Link were closed today. An email to History students claimed that a “shortage of staff” was the cause. The email continued: “Click & Collect will continue to be offered in libraries as in MT. In Humanities, this includes EFL, MFL, PTFL, Sackler, Taylor Inst. Library, VHL” and that “loans will not be due back until 29 January (likely be reviewed in due course)”.
No specific guidance appears to have been released regarding college libraries. In an email to students, Lady Margaret Hall claimed that “ideally, we would like to keep the library in operation both physically and virtually” but that they were reliant upon University guidance. At Pembroke, students were told that if they were already present in College, they could be given “access to the library in limited numbers for the time being”. An email from Magdalen claimed that “the College Libraries remain open” but urged students to check before going to other libraries. It is currently unclear whether college libraries will be allowed to remain open under the national lockdown or University guidance.
Previously, many colleges urged students not to return – even if they had been previously allowed to by college staff – until the University had worked through the legislation. At St Hugh’s, “any students who were considering travelling to College based on one of the criteria listed below” were asked “to not travel to College at this time until we have had further clarification from the University”. Meanwhile, St Hilda’s students were told “you should NOT make plans to return to college, even if you had previously booked a date to return this coming weekend” and that changes to government guidance may cause the dining hall to be shut.
The Oxford University Student Union has responded to the announcement of a national lockdown, promising to advocate for students who may be disadvantaged by the new restrictions. While they were unable to guarantee measures which would be taken, they emphasised that meetings would be held in coming days to ensure students would not be negatively impacted.
“Following the government announcement on 4th January 2021 of a national lockdown, we understand the difficulty that all students are facing regarding many aspects of their University experience in the coming months.
“Oxford SU is the recognised voice of students at the University of Oxford and we want to reassure all members that we are continually lobbying and representing you on the issues that matter. We are here to support you in any way we can.
“We share your valid anger, frustration, and disappointment with this government which continues to fail to put students at the fore of its decision making. We stand in support and solidarity with students who are facing widespread uncertainty.
“We know the current situation is incredibly difficult and that much of the academic year remains uncertain. We are working hard with the University and Colleges to clarify information surrounding accommodation, academic expectations and welfare provisions.
“We believe that the University must recognise the academic challenges by reassessing workloads and assessment practices. Whilst it may take some time for the University to finalise any changes to course assessment, it is paramount that the University acts as soon as possible to outline their planned steps and changes to assessment where possible. We will continue to lobby the University including at a divisional and departmental level on these issues over the coming days and will be updating students on progress next week.
“We continue to lobby to ensure students unable to return to Oxford in Hilary Term 2021 are not be financially penalised [sic]. Students should not have to pay for accommodation that they are unable to live in. This should include reimbursing graduate students on long-term tenancies for the time period during which they are unable to use their rooms.
“We will be providing a further update as soon as we can with information around our next steps for lobbying and resources for you. We will also be holding a briefing session for Common Room Presidents and Campaign chairs tomorrow at 5pm. This a fast-moving situation, we remain committed to actively lobbying and working closely with the collegiate University to ensure students are supported.”
This article contains breaking news and may be updated as more information becomes available.