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Colleges announce return policies

Jill Cushen reports on the college updates following the government's new guidance last week.

Following the government announcement that students on non-practical courses not already exempt will be unable to return to Oxford until the 17th of May, the University of Oxford has updated its guidance on students’ returns, stating: “providers should support the return of students where necessary to support the continuation of their studies.” 

In emails seen by Cherwell, colleges have outlined their policies for students who wish to return to Oxford before May 17th. In line with government and university guidance, students may return provided they fall under one of the exemptions: if they “do not have access to appropriate alternative accommodation, facilities or study space at home” or “for health or safety (including mental health and wellbeing) reasons.” In light of these changes, students who previously applied and were not given permission can contact their college to make a new request. 

In an email sent to students at St John’s College, the college said they shared students’ “disappointment and frustration” at the government update, but informed them: “our objective remains to welcome back as many of you as possible, within the parameters of what is permitted by the government.” For students who claim the exemption of health and safety, including mental health and wellbeing, the college said they would “initiate a discussion about what support [they] may need on [their] return” in order to ensure their safety and that of the wider college community. 

Students at St Edmund’s Hall, who were not already given permission to return, were told they could if “in [their] judgement, this is necessary for [them] to be able to use the facilities such as libraries to study effectively, to prepare for examinations, or for health reasons”. These students did not “need to secure the permission” of the college. 

Hertford College also told their students they shared in their “frustrations” and “had hoped for earlier clarity and a stronger recognition of both the case for return and the sacrifices made by students”. Students wishing to return early were asked to submit a “brief return request” flagging the “general grounds on which the request is being made” and if given permission, can return in the earlier window from 21 to 24 April.  The college also said that “all students who wish to return to residence for Trinity Term will be able to do so in preparation for 17th May” and instructed them to book an arrival slot between May 12 and 15. 

Students at Regent’s Park were told that the college would be happy to consider requests and would “interpret government and University rules as generously as [they] can”. The email also stated that if students wished to submit a request under one of the exemptions, they did not need to go into “great detail” but that a “simple statement of the relevant exemption” would be sufficient. 

The Queen’s College wrote to students stating that those who do not have access to appropriate alternative accommodation, facilities, or study space would be allowed to “self-certify for the exemption” but would require a “supportive GP statement where the student is making a case on matters of mental health”. 

In an email to their students, Exeter wrote: “The College recognises that the prolonged period for which many of you have now been required to remain at home may have made individual situations and difficulties more acute, and that this may include some of you who have previously made unsuccessful applications to return.” 

St Hugh’s told students that given the “slight change in the wording around the Government guidance on exemptions” they are hopeful that more students will be in College than in Hilary term. Wadham also “warmly encouraged” students who fall under one of the exemptions to apply, adding that the college is “very keen” to support those who wish to return. 

Meanwhile, Merton, Somerville, Balliol and New College reminded students that due to continuing restrictions, study spaces in college will be limited in the coming term and there may be nowhere for students who do return to work other than their own study-bedroom. 

Following the latest government announcement on university returns, PresCom, the committee of JCR Presidents, wrote to the Heads of Oxford colleges to suggest they adopt “a more trust-based approach” to allowing students to return. In a Facebook post, they said: “This approach must be both uniform  across the colleges and must respect students’ abilities as responsible adults to make their own decision as to the seriousness of their reasons to return.” 

On April 16, PresCom received a reply from Mr. Miles Young, Chair of the Conference of Colleges, which read: “I am glad to say that there is a clear consensus within colleges as a result of the consultation exercise we conducted in the early part of this week, which favours a consistent approach based on streamlined processes and a high degree of ‘self-certification’, but recognising, of course, that the granting of permission to return is the College’s prerogative, not the students’.” 

He added: “While there will inevitably be some differences in procedures and language, I think you can be reassured that colleges have come together with a willingness to do everything possible to ‘support the return of students where necessary to support the continuation of their studies’, as the new guidance enables them to do.” 

Image Credit: Alison Day / CC BY-ND 2.0

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