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Magdalen College reopens to tourists despite delayed student returns

Magdalen College, Oxford has reopened to tourists, despite the fact that not all students will return to the college grounds until mid-May. Under current government guidelines, “outdoor hospitality venues” and “outdoor attractions” have been allowed to open from 12 April. Meanwhile, the government stipulates that “[higher education] providers should not ask students to return if their course can reasonably be continued online” and that students on non-practical courses “should continue to learn remotely and remain where they’re living until in-person teaching starts again, wherever possible”.

Magdalen College advertised that they were “open to visitors” on 12 April,  while their students on non-practical courses were not informed of return dates until the following day. Writing on Facebook, Magdalen college advertised that the first 20 visitors would receive a “free Magdalen calendar”. 

Visitors can explore the grounds of the college, including its deer park, for a reduced price of £6 for adults and £5 for Over 65s, children and students from other institutions. Oxford students can visit for free. 

Magdalen is currently the only Oxford college to reopen to the public. Christ Church remains closed to visitors “at least until the end of the academic year”, although they have advertised the opening of their new takeaway café on 1 May, as well as their shop which is currently open. 

King’s College, Cambridge, is also accepting visitors during timed slots. Writing on their website, the College said they were “delighted” to open parts of their grounds from 13 April. For a reduced price of £5, members of the public can visit the wildflower meadow and the Xu Zhimo garden. The College also plans to open their Chapel to tourists from 17 May.

On 13 April, the government announced that in-person teaching for students on non-practical courses would resume “no earlier than 17 May” giving universities just over a month to prepare for this change. Meanwhile, the government’s original roadmap out of lockdown, detailing provisional “unlocking” dates for other sectors, including 12 April for outdoor hospitality and attractions, was announced on 22 February, giving such sectors more time to prepare. 

Students and university leaders have previously expressed frustration at higher education’s omission from the original roadmap. Many were further disheartened by the 17 May date. In response to the announcement that Magdalen would reopen to tourists, Abigail Howe, a Second Year English Literature student at the college, told The Telegraph: “The roadmap has been done in such a way that university students’ return has been prioritised below people having a walk in the college grounds.” 

In relation to Magdalen’s policy under the new University guidance, Ms Howe told Cherwell: “Magdalen’s returns policy has been really sympathetic and considerate to my knowledge. However, the fact they are legally able to take in tourists before all students can return does highlight the absurdity of the government’s roadmap and the way students have been consistently disregarded by the government.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education told Cherwell: “All university students who have not yet returned to campus and in-person teaching will be able to do so alongside 17 May, at the earliest. The timing aligns with Step 3 of the Government’s roadmap, where restrictions on social contact and indoor mixing will be further eased and aims to limit potential public health risks associated with student populations moving across the country.”

The Department did not provide comment on the specific reopening of colleges to the public.

Magdalen College has been contacted for comment.

Image Credit: Ed Webster / CC-BY-2.0

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