In an email sent to all students today, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education), Martin Williams, confirmed that “formal teaching is very likely to remain online for most students, unless there is a significant change in Government policy”, describing this as a “difficult decision.”
He also noted that “some students on a small number of additional courses will be invited to return in time for University in-person practical teaching to begin in Week 5 of Hilary term, where this is vital for them to complete the year”. These students should expect to hear from their departments early next week.
New provisions have also been confirmed for students taking exams this year. The University stated that they would not be introducing a blanket ‘no detriment’ policy, in line with the Russell Group’s previous statement. Williams echoed the Russell Group’s statement in his email, saying that a “formulaic policy for all students is not the right approach, and that a more considered and tailored solution is required.”
For finalists, the University will instead be introducing a rescaling policy across courses, comparing cohort achievement to marks in pre-pandemic years and scaling where necessary. The University will also be implementing an enhanced Mitigating Circumstances process, similar to last year’s, allowing students to set out the disruption they have experienced during the pandemic without a need for independent medical evidence.
Williams stated that the University “will also offer improved support and guidance for both students and examiners, to ensure MCEs are handled with empathy and consistency,” and encouraged students to keep a record of any disruption they face so that it can be considered during the MCE process.
Provisions have also been put in place for those with coursework deadlines. Students will now be able to submit an explanatory statement with their coursework if they feel they have been impacted by lack of access to resources, which will be considered at the marking stage rather than after marking by the exam board.
This comes after the SU launched their ‘Fair Outcomes for Students’ campaign, pushing for further action from the university to aid final year students. The SU called for a safety net policy, including rescaling and possible re-weighting of marks, alongside an enhanced mitigating circumstances policy. The Russell Group University newspapers recently published a joint editorial calling for a safety net policy, and urging Russell Group Universities “to act compassionately and responsibly.”
Regarding a return to university later in the year, Williams stated that: “At this stage, we anticipate that we will be able to welcome students back to Oxford in Trinity term.” The University is currently working on options for “teaching and wider student life,” such as whether catch-up in-person work will be required for small numbers of students. An update will be provided by the University around the middle of term.
Williams also noted that “the libraries are working to maximise the range of resources and support available to everyone through these means.” For students currently in Oxford, the Old Bodleian will be offering access to study spaces, and Williams anticipates that opening hours and spaces will be expanded as the term progresses. Staff at the Bodleian previously spoke to Cherwell, claiming that keeping reading rooms open is not “safe or sustainable.”