University eases return guidelines amidst student backlash

“How can it be that from 12 April students can visit nail salons, gyms and pubs, and can travel for domestic stays, but cannot resume their studies?”

After widespread backlash from students for the past few weeks, the university has now provided updated guidelines on returning to Oxford.

Criticism has ensued from Oxford students since University students as a whole were first left out of the government announcement and then told that they would not be allowed to return to University except in certain exceptional cases. 

However, an email from the University today comes with updated guidance. They have now stated that students on non-practical courses that were previously ineligible to return can now do so if t is “necessary to support the continuation of [their] studies”, including preparing for in-person examinations. Students can also return if they lack access to appropriate study facilities at home, or need to return for safety reasons such as maintaining their personal wellbeing or mental health. 

The new guidelines says that students can request to return “even if [they] have previously applied and were not given permission”. This comes after discrepancies between individual colleges led PresCom, the committee of JCR presidents, to lobby the Conference of Colleges to consider implementing a standardised self certification policy. 

Under this, students would be able to self-certify to able to come back to college they fell under any of the following categories: students on practical courses, international students in the UK or with booked travel, those who remained in accommodation, individuals who require additional support, or students who do not have access to appropriate study spaces or facilities home.

This decision comes after widespread backlash and the launch of a campaign to bring students back to campus being termed ‘Our Turn to Return’. As part of this, students have been circulating a documents with links to petitions, open letter drafts, and government and press contacts so they can have their voices heard.

Nadia Hassan, 2nd year modern languages student and President of the Trinity College, Oxford’s JCR, started a petition to the government in order to bring attention to the frustrations felt by many students. The petition calls for “all students to return at the start of the Summer term” and asks for many of the discrepancies between colleges and courses to be addressed.

In just a few days since its launch on 12th April, the petition has now received 10,000 signatures, which means it should receive a response from the UK government. Petitions which surpass 100,000 signatures are also considered for a debate in Parliament.

Hassan told The Tab Oxford, “It’s amazing that the petition has reached over 10,000 signatures in under 72 hours; however, I’m nervous on what the government response would be. This is now the time for them to not sweep our concerns for our education under the carpet and for them to overturn their previous decision. No other answer than that will satisfy the national student body and they ought to realise and deeply consider this in their response.”

William Whitten, a 1st year student at St. Hilda’s College who has been an active member of the campaign explained further, “We also want to be treated as part of the society which are slowly being allowed to return to their normal life. Why can people now go on holiday in the UK, go in limited numbers to stadiums, go to the pubs in mixed households, but we cannot return to University. Students are being treated as different and as separate, and I do not think this is fair or right at all.”

Oxford SU has also stated, “We recognise that students have made considerable sacrifices this year and we are extremely disappointed the Government have decided to leave students in these uncertain conditions when their final exams are rapidly approaching…We are pleased that students will be able to request to return even if you have previously applied and were not given permission. We hope that in reviewing these applications, colleges will view students through a lens of compassion and empathy, as we believe that too many students fell through the cracks last term.”

Featured Image: Michael D Beckwith, Creative Commons License