Staff & Student Communications | University of Oxford

Staff and student communications

There is hardly a community in the world that hasn't been affected by the outbreak of COVID-19. Its impacts have brought levels of disruption, uncertainty, and change that have challenged the best of us. Despite this, we carry on, a community of scholars and students who come together to learn, to research and to improve the world around us.

The health, welfare and safety of students and staff is the number one priority for the University. Below, you will find the messages that have been sent to staff and students during this period since March 2020 to provide updates, explanations and reassurance as we work together to navigate the changes we're experiencing. (View a summary of the current status of the University.)

18 January from the Vice-Chancellor to all staff

Dear Colleagues,

I thought I would write to you on this – the first Monday in First Week of the new term – to acknowledge that this is a very difficult time, that it is likely to continue for a while, and that we are going to continue to ask you to do many difficult things. I want you to know, however, that my colleagues and I appreciate that you cannot do everything. You are not expected to work as if there were no pandemic. We encourage you to take time to look after yourselves. Your best is good enough.

At a Teams meeting of Heads of Department last week, one put a question in the chat. I called on him to ask his question and it immediately became apparent that he was participating in this meeting while home schooling his children. The experience took me back to the toughest time in my career, when I had to balance caring for three children under five and a junior faculty position.

I remembered the time, at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, when I arrived at a lift with my six-week-old in one arm, a bag of papers in the other, and my two-year-old at my side. The lift door opened, my excited daughter ran in, and the door closed behind her. My stomach sank as I watched the lift carry her up, floor after floor, through the vast Washington Hilton.

These, and many other memories, flooded back when I heard the familiar background sounds at the Heads of Department meeting. But I never had to home school my children. I can only begin to imagine how difficult it must be to balance caring for children with teaching students, fulfilling administrative responsibilities, and keeping one’s research going, all while worrying about the personal, professional and national consequences of the pandemic.

Nor do I wish to suggest that the difficulties are confined to those with children. The complete cessation of social life has been especially hard for our colleagues who live alone. As one said to me: “I haven’t touched another human being in nearly a year.”

I know that I speak for the senior team when I say that we are committed to supporting you in every way we can. We have flexed several of our policies in addressing immediate needs and recognizing the potential for longer-term impact on careers. We have also put in place financial support and mental health and wellbeing resources. I hope you are taking advantage of them. Please visit the new webpage which brings together – for academic, research and teaching staff – the various support measures that have been put in place during the pandemic, alongside support for all staff.

We are very interested in hearing any ideas that you may have of other ways we can help, or if there are activities or programmes that can easily be postponed. I will be holding an Open Forum for all staff on 22 January, the Registrar will hold a forum for Professional Services staff on 8 February, and I will hold one for Academic staff on 17 February.

I do hope that, like me, you are deriving hope from the scale and speed of the vaccination programme thus far, and from the fact that the days are gradually getting longer and brighter.

Yours sincerely,

Louise Richardson

Vice-Chancellor

12 January from Professor Martin Williams to all research students

Important message for all research students: exams and assessments in Hilary and Trinity terms

The message below has just been sent to all taught students. It will be relevant to the small number of postgraduate research students taking examinations this academic year. Existing information about assessments for postgraduate research students can be found on the FAQ page of the student coronavirus site.

I am writing to update you on our plans for examinations and assessments in Hilary and Trinity terms 2021.

First, I want to acknowledge what a troubling time this is for all students, and I would like to thank you for your continued cooperation and patience as we respond to the latest national lockdown and the ongoing disruption brought about by COVID-19.

I understand that many of you will be concerned about the impact on your studies. I would like to reassure you that we are doing everything we can to support you in spite of the pandemic, and to give you as much clarity as possible given the ongoing uncertainty we all face. Departments have the situation under constant review, and will be adapting teaching and learning as appropriate to ensure you are fully prepared and supported for exams and assessments.

Plans for Hilary and Trinity terms

At this stage, I am able to confirm the following information:

Hilary term
  • There will be no in-person exams in Hilary term (with the exception of one medical exam needed to meet professional body requirements).
  • The vast majority of exams that were due to take place in-person in Hilary term will now be taken either online or by other means of assessment. Your department will contact you in the near future if you were due to take an in-person exam in Hilary term to tell you more.
  • All online open-book examinations will take place as planned using WebLearn
  • All coursework will continue to be submitted online.
  • These decisions are final, and arrangements for Hilary term exams are not expected to change again.
Trinity term
  • As things currently stand, we plan for a full suite of Trinity term exams to take place around their usual time.
  • Most students sitting examinations will be using Oxford’s new online assessment platform, full details of which will be announced in the near future. We have selected a platform that provides the benefits of a modern service, but with ease of use, and a smooth transition for students as a priority: more information on the new system is outlined below.
  • A number of examinations are planned to take place in-person, but contingency plans are in place should the pandemic restrictions prevent in-person exams taking place.
  • All coursework will continue to be submitted online.

Over the next few weeks we will be considering whether any changes are necessary to Trinity term exams as the pandemic develops. These might include changing a small number of in-person exams to a different format, using other forms of assessment, or making small adjustments to timing.

I fully understand that you will want certainty as soon as possible about how you will be assessed this year, and we are committed to confirming clear plans for Trinity term by the middle of this term. In the meantime, you should assume that your assessments will be as already advised.

New online exams platform

If you are taking open-book exams, you will use a new user-friendly and intuitive online assessment platform. Details of the new system will be provided in the near future.

You will have opportunities to familiarise yourself with the new system, and we aim for you to have hands-on access with a ‘demo’ version from February. If you are sitting your exams in Trinity term, you will also be able to take a practice exam at least two weeks before your first exam to become confident about using the new platform. We are creating a new set of webpages with guidance on how you can prepare for and take online exams this year. This will be made available from mid-February.

Timetables

Your exam timetables (including the format of your exams) will be published on the Timetables page of the Oxford Students website throughout Hilary term, as soon as they are agreed with your Exam Boards. Personal exam timetables will be issued via Student Self Service at least two weeks before your first exam.

Support for you

We will provide as much support as possible during your exams this year, with department guidance, college briefings and support, recorded exam preparation briefings, exam-specific wellbeing resources and the usual exam adjustments in place.

We are also committed to supporting students impacted by COVID-19, with a focus on targeted measures for individual students.

The mitigating circumstances notices to examiners process also remains in place, allowing Exam Boards to take a range of actions for both individual students, and for whole cohorts. We are reviewing this system to ensure it is suitable for the current pandemic situation, and will confirm any changes as soon as possible.

In line with our targeted approach, and the Russell Group’s position, we will not be introducing a blanket ‘safety net’ for all students as was done in Trinity term 2020. This is because teaching and assessment is being structured and delivered in a more established way this year and with more support available. Nevertheless, in consultation with Oxford SU representatives, we are giving careful thought to what additional measures may be needed to support students and achieve fair degree outcomes in this year’s assessments. A further announcement will be made by the middle of Hilary term.

‘Declared awards’ will still be available this academic year. Like last year, the declared outcome is intended only for those students who cannot complete their assessments and who are unable to suspend and return the following year.

Further information

As outlined above, we plan to provide information about any further changes to Trinity exams and the support available to you by the middle of this term. We will also provide more information about the new exam system, and other updates in the days and weeks ahead. Please continue to review the student coronavirus pages and the Student News for the latest information. As above, you should assume your assessments will take place as previously advised unless you hear otherwise, and there are no further actions required from you at this stage.

The pandemic continues to provide us with significant challenges, but please rest assured that supporting your academic success is a key priority for everyone at the University, and we are committed to keeping you updated with the latest information as soon as it becomes available. With your continued flexibility, I am confident that we can have another successful exam season regardless of the ongoing disruption we are all facing.

With best wishes,

Martin Williams
Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education)
University of Oxford

12 January from Professor Martin Williams to all taught students

Important message for all taught students: exams and assessments in Hilary and Trinity terms

I am writing to update you on our plans for examinations and assessments in Hilary and Trinity terms 2021.

First, I want to acknowledge what a troubling time this is for all students, and I would like to thank you for your continued cooperation and patience as we respond to the latest national lockdown and the ongoing disruption brought about by COVID-19.

I understand that many of you will be concerned about the impact on your studies. I would like to reassure you that we are doing everything we can to support you in spite of the pandemic, and to give you as much clarity as possible given the ongoing uncertainty we all face. Departments have the situation under constant review, and will be adapting teaching and learning as appropriate to ensure you are fully prepared and supported for exams and assessments.

Plans for Hilary and Trinity terms

At this stage, I am able to confirm the following information:

Hilary term
  • There will be no in-person exams in Hilary term (with the exception of one medical exam needed to meet professional body requirements).
  • The vast majority of exams that were due to take place in-person in Hilary term will now be taken either online or by other means of assessment. Your department will contact you in the near future if you were due to take an in-person exam in Hilary term to tell you more.
  • All online open-book examinations will take place as planned using WebLearn
  • All coursework will continue to be submitted online.
  • These decisions are final, and arrangements for Hilary term exams are not expected to change again.
Trinity term
  • As things currently stand, we plan for a full suite of Trinity term exams to take place around their usual time.
  • Most students sitting examinations will be using Oxford’s new online assessment platform, full details of which will be announced in the near future. We have selected a platform that provides the benefits of a modern service, but with ease of use, and a smooth transition for students as a priority: more information on the new system is outlined below.
  • A number of examinations are planned to take place in-person, but contingency plans are in place should the pandemic restrictions prevent in-person exams taking place.
  • All coursework will continue to be submitted online.

Over the next few weeks we will be considering whether any changes are necessary to Trinity term exams as the pandemic develops. These might include changing a small number of in-person exams to a different format, using other forms of assessment, or making small adjustments to timing.

I fully understand that you will want certainty as soon as possible about how you will be assessed this year, and we are committed to confirming clear plans for Trinity term by the middle of this term. In the meantime, you should assume that your assessments will be as already advised.

New online exams platform

If you are taking open-book exams, you will use a new user-friendly and intuitive online assessment platform. Details of the new system will be provided in the near future.

You will have opportunities to familiarise yourself with the new system, and we aim for you to have hands-on access with a ‘demo’ version from February. If you are sitting your exams in Trinity term, you will also be able to take a practice exam at least two weeks before your first exam to become confident about using the new platform. We are creating a new set of webpages with guidance on how you can prepare for and take online exams this year. This will be made available from mid-February.

Timetables

Your exam timetables (including the format of your exams) will be published on the Timetables page of the Oxford Students website throughout Hilary term, as soon as they are agreed with your Exam Boards. Personal exam timetables will be issued via Student Self Service at least two weeks before your first exam.

Support for you

We will provide as much support as possible during your exams this year, with department guidance, college briefings and support, recorded exam preparation briefings, exam-specific wellbeing resources and the usual exam adjustments in place.

We are also committed to supporting students impacted by COVID-19, with a focus on targeted measures for individual students.

The mitigating circumstances notices to examiners process also remains in place, allowing Exam Boards to take a range of actions for both individual students, and for whole cohorts. We are reviewing this system to ensure it is suitable for the current pandemic situation, and will confirm any changes as soon as possible.

In line with our targeted approach, and the Russell Group’s position, we will not be introducing a blanket ‘safety net’ for all students as was done in Trinity term 2020. This is because teaching and assessment is being structured and delivered in a more established way this year and with more support available. Nevertheless, in consultation with Oxford SU representatives, we are giving careful thought to what additional measures may be needed to support students and achieve fair degree outcomes in this year’s assessments. A further announcement will be made by the middle of Hilary term.

‘Declared awards’ will still be available this academic year. Like last year, the declared outcome is intended only for those students who cannot complete their assessments and who are unable to suspend and return the following year.

Further information

As outlined above, we plan to provide information about any further changes to Trinity exams and the support available to you by the middle of this term. We will also provide more information about the new exam system, and other updates in the days and weeks ahead. Please continue to review the student coronavirus pages and the Student News for the latest information. As above, you should assume your assessments will take place as previously advised unless you hear otherwise, and there are no further actions required from you at this stage.

The pandemic continues to provide us with significant challenges, but please rest assured that supporting your academic success is a key priority for everyone at the University, and we are committed to keeping you updated with the latest information as soon as it becomes available. With your continued flexibility, I am confident that we can have another successful exam season regardless of the ongoing disruption we are all facing.

With best wishes,

Martin Williams
Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education)
University of Oxford

6 January from the Vice-Chancellor to all staff

Dear Colleagues

Welcome to Hilary term 2021. I hope that each of you managed to have a restful break over the holidays and that you are feeling refreshed and ready for the challenges ahead.

This pandemic has tested us in unprecedented ways. Last Trinity term, thanks to the extraordinary efforts and talents of each of you, we moved our teaching online. Over the summer, we safely reopened our buildings, created COVID-19-secure workplaces and established a state-of-the-art testing service. Last term, we brought our students back to Oxford and provided them with the educational and social experience that is our hallmark. Throughout all the ups and downs of the pandemic, we have continued our vital research.

Now, for a third term, we will have to adapt again. As you know, we were instructed by the Department of Education to stagger the return of students this month. Last week we received new guidance severely restricting the numbers of students who could return to the University in January. On Monday evening the Prime Minister announced further national restrictions until at least mid-February. As of now, we still do not have detailed guidance from the Department of Education.

As soon as we receive more detailed information we will post it on our website, publish it in the University Bulletin, and send it to Departments through the communications cascade. Colleges will also send their own communications. The general principles, however, remain clear. Most teaching will be online until at least mid-February and most students are discouraged from returning to Oxford before then (exceptions are listed here).

Our commitment to protecting and nurturing our research remains. We will keep buildings open so that those who cannot work from home can have access to a COVID-19-secure workplace. Our commitment to the education of our students remains as strong as ever, but we will again have to be creative in how we teach our students. Our commitment to the health and wellbeing of our staff, on whom our research and education depend – and who again may need to juggle caring and work – remains unequivocal.

Last term, as you know, we established a PCR Testing Service for our students and staff. Over the course of the term we tested approximately 6,000 staff and students. 20% had positive results. Of those 95% were students. Of the staff who tested positive almost all were able to trace the source of infection to family or social situations, not the workplace. I would like to encourage you to use the testing service if you are concerned that you might have COVID-19. We are also exploring the possibility of introducing asymptomatic Lateral Flow Testing for staff who have to come to work.

I will be holding an Open Forum with some of my colleagues on 22 January so that we can address any detailed questions you may have.

I should add that we are also assessing the detailed implications for the University of our exit from the EU in light of the new Trade Agreement. We were relieved to have secured Associate Status for Horizon Europe and we continue to seek details from Government on the new Turing Scheme. The Brexit webpages will be updated by the end of the week.

I trust that the MHRA approval of the Oxford Vaccine, and its rollout this week, is a source of enormous pride for you as it is for me. It also means that we know that there is an end to this difficult period in which we find ourselves. I am reminded of an old Irish saying: “An ceann is dorcha roimh breacadh an lae”, meaning, it is darkest before the dawn. We have a few more difficult months ahead but the end is in sight. I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you have done, and continue to do, for this great University and our critical mission of research, education and contributing to the world around us.

Yours sincerely

Louise Richardson
Vice-Chancellor

6 January from Professor Martin Williams and Miles Young to all taught students

Important message for all taught students: update on Hilary term arrangements

We are writing to provide another update following our message last week about returning for Hilary term.

As you will know, a national lockdown is now in place across England, and we are now considering the implications for the University and colleges. We fully realise this will add yet more frustration to what has been such a difficult time for all of us, and are committed to providing as much clarity as we can as soon as possible.

In the meantime, we are able to confirm the following information:

Update on return for Hilary term

As per our previous email, Government guidance states that only specific groups of taught students can return to university from 4 January.

All other students were previously instructed not to return until at least 25 January. The Government has now revised this date to at least ‘mid-February’.

In line with wider government guidance to limit travel, students should access learning remotely from home wherever possible. There are limited exemptions available, which are outlined on the Christmas vacation page, and will be applied strictly. If you feel you meet the criteria, you must discuss with your college and before you travel back to Oxford. Colleges will follow government guidance when evaluating applications for exemptions.

We can now confirm that students on a very small number of additional courses will also be able to return early. Your department will contact you as soon as possible to invite you back to Oxford if your course is included in this list.

Unless you have agreed with your college that you meet the strict criteria already provided, or your department informs you that you can return for in-person teaching, you must not come back to Oxford until at least mid-February. We will be in touch when we are able to provide more information about return dates.

Please ensure that you contact your college before you make any plans to travel to Oxford.

Postgraduate research students remain exempt from this guidance, and have been written to separately.

Teaching and assessment

The University has moved to Stage 3 of its business continuity planning framework. This means that while University and college buildings will remain open for on-site working and research, teaching and learning will need to take place online for the time being, apart from the courses outlined above where in-person teaching is permitted. You can prepare for learning online by following our advice for getting the most out of remote learning at university.

Most Hilary term assessments up to at least mid-February will move online unless there is a strict regulatory requirement for them to take place in-person. We are now considering our plans for exams later in the term. Your department will inform you of any changes to exam arrangements as appropriate.

Libraries will prioritise remote and zero-contact digital services, although a small number of ‘hub’ libraries will be open for bookable study spaces. Go to the Bodleian Libraries website for further details.

We realise that some students will have concerns about the impact of these changes on their academic work, and we are working through the detail of how this will be managed. More information will follow as soon as possible.

Student life

Clearly the national lockdown and the restrictions that come with it, will impact student life, which means that being in Oxford will not be the same as it was in Michaelmas term. Nevertheless, we are committed to supporting students as much as possible. Colleges will be working to support students who have returned to Oxford, or stayed throughout the vacation. We expect student clubs and societies will continue to operate online with a range of offerings based on experiences gained in 2020. University services such as the Careers Service and the Language Centre will continue online as before.

We realise that the pandemic continues to have a significant impact on many students’ mental health. College and University welfare provision will remain in place throughout the term, and the Mental Health Task Force will focus on what is needed so that we can continue to offer the highest level of support to students.

Residency requirements

In light of the current COVID-19 restrictions, the decision has been taken to suspend all residency requirements for Hilary term. A blanket dispensation is now in place for all students for the whole term, and you do not need to make any applications if you are unable to return.

We remain hopeful that we will be able to provide in-person teaching and support when the current pandemic ‘spike’ subsides. Once we are permitted by Government guidance to restart in-person teaching we will look forward to welcoming you back.

The policy for residency requirements in Trinity term will be considered later in Hilary term – in line with the evolving pandemic.

Next steps

We share your disappointment in not being able to provide more in-person teaching, and that we can’t have more students in Oxford, but are fully committed to helping every student to make the most out of their university experience within the constraints of the pandemic. Colleges and departments have been planning for scenarios such as this for several months, and are confident that based on our experiences last year, we will be able to provide effective online teaching and assessment, and to support students as much as possible whether you are at home or here in Oxford.

We also realise that you will have a number of additional questions about the rest of the academic year – in particular the impacts on teaching and assessment, and arrangements for later in Hilary, and in Trinity term. There is a lot to consider, but we would like to assure you that we are working through the details, and will provide updates as soon as possible.

All of the information above has now been published on the Christmas vacation page, and an overview of welfare support available to students is also online. Further details will be updated on the wider student pages on the coronavirus website, and in the Student News from next Monday (11 January), to help keep you up to date. Please do continue to check back regularly.

Martin Williams, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education)
Miles Young, Chair, Conference of Colleges

6 January from Professor Martin Williams and Miles Young to all research students

Important message for all research students: update on Hilary term arrangements

We are writing to provide another update following our message last week about returning for Hilary term.

As you will know, a national lockdown is now in place across England, and we are now considering the implications for the University and colleges. We fully realise that this news will add yet more frustration to what has been such a difficult time for all of us, and are committed to providing as much clarity as we can as soon as possible.

In the meantime, we are able to confirm the following information:

Research and wider University activity

The University has moved to Stage 3 of its business continuity planning framework. This means that University and college buildings will remain open for on-site working and research, but most teaching will take place online for the time being.

As per our previous email, Government guidance states that only specific groups of taught students can return to university from 4 January. All other taught students have now been advised that they will not be allowed to return until at least ‘mid-February’.

Postgraduate research students remain exempt from this guidance. In line with University employees, you may access university facilities if necessary for your research, but should work remotely if you are able to do so. You should speak to your department about whether you will be able to conduct your research from home or on-site.

Libraries will prioritise remote and zero-contact digital services, although a small number of ‘hub’ libraries will be open for bookable study spaces. Go to the Bodleian Libraries website for further details.

We realise that some students will have concerns about the impact of these changes on their academic work, and we are working through the detail of how this will be managed. More information will follow as soon as possible.

Student life

Clearly the national lockdown, and the restrictions that come with it, will impact student life, which means that being in Oxford will not be the same as it was in Michaelmas term. Nevertheless, we are committed to supporting students as much as possible. Colleges will be working to support students who have returned to Oxford, or stayed throughout the vacation. We expect student clubs and societies will continue to operate online with a range of offerings based on experiences gained in 2020. University services such as the Careers Service and the Language Centre will continue online as before.

We realise that the pandemic continues to have a significant impact on many students’ mental health. College and University welfare provision will remain in place throughout the term, and the Mental Health Task Force will focus on what is needed so that we can continue to offer the highest level of support to students.

Residency requirements

In light of the current COVID-19 restrictions, the decision has been taken to suspend all residency requirements for Hilary term. A blanket dispensation is now in place for all students for the whole term, and you do not need to make any applications if you are unable to return.

We remain hopeful that we will be able to provide in-person teaching and support when the current pandemic ‘spike’ subsides. Once we are permitted by Government guidance to restart in-person teaching we will look forward to welcoming you back.

The policy for residency requirements in Trinity term will be considered later in Hilary term – in line with the evolving pandemic.

Next steps

We also realise that you will have a number of additional questions about the rest of the academic year – in particular the impacts on teaching and assessment, and arrangements for later in Hilary, and in Trinity term. There is a lot to consider, but we would like to assure you that we are working through the details, and will provide updates as soon as possible.

All of the information above has now been published on the Christmas vacation page, and an overview of welfare support available to students is also online. Further details will be updated on the wider student pages on the coronavirus website, and in the Student News from next Monday (11 January), to help keep you up to date. Please do continue to check back regularly.

Martin Williams, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education)
Miles Young, Chair, Conference of Colleges

1 January from Professor Martin Williams and Miles Young to all taught students

Important message for all taught students: changes to arrangements for the start of Hilary term

We are writing to notify you about some important changes to our plans for the start of Hilary term.

On Wednesday 30 December, the UK Government published new guidance about which students are allowed to return to universities in the New Year.

In line with this guidance, only very specific groups of taught students will be permitted to return to Oxford from 4 January. All other taught students are advised not to travel back to university until at least 25 January, with all teaching taking place online until at least that point.

If you are taking part in initial teacher training or medicine courses, you should return to Oxford as indicated previously. Students on a small number of additional courses (for example, some of those with professional accreditations) may be invited to come back to Oxford earlier than other students. Further guidance will follow on this next week.

If you are not on an initial teacher training or medicine course, you should only return to Oxford at this stage if you meet at least one of these criteria:

  • You are an international student and have remained in the UK or have already arrived back, or have booked travel which cannot be rescheduled
  • You have stayed in university or college accommodation over the Christmas vacation
  • You require additional support, including if you are having mental health difficulties
  • You do not have access to appropriate study spaces or facilities at home

If you meet these criteria, you should return to Oxford as you had already planned at the end of Michaelmas term. If your circumstances have changed since the end of last term, you should discuss your plans with your college before returning.

This guidance applies to both full and part-time students. Postgraduate research students are exempt from the guidance, and have been written to separately.

If you are not taking part in one of the courses above, or do not meet these criteria, you are asked not to return to Oxford until you hear from us again.

The importance of testing and health measures on your return

As you will know, there has been a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases at a national level recently, in part as a result of a new strain of the virus. It is therefore vitally important that you continue to follow the health measures and the behaviours outlined in the Student Responsibility Agreement.

If you are coming back to live in Oxford, you are also very strongly advised to get tested for COVID-19. Your college will provide you with three Lateral Flow Device (LFD) tests when you return to Oxford. You should take the first test as soon as possible after you arrive back in Oxford, one three days later, and one more on your tenth day in Oxford. This is extremely important for stopping the spread of the virus.

While LFDs do not detect every case of COVID-19, if you follow the training carefully and take three tests at the start of term, this will significantly increase the chances that cases are detected – and in particular, it will help to detect cases that would otherwise probably be transmitted to others.

Further information

We realise you will have many detailed questions about arrangements for the start of term.

Discussions are now taking place about the exact timings of taught students returning, how University and college services will be managed, and a number of other issues. We are committed to providing a fuller update next week.

In the meantime the Christmas vacation page of the University coronavirus site has now been updated with the interim information. A letter from the Universities Minister to all UK students is also available online.

The University is currently in its Fixed Closure Period, so staff may not be available to answer your questions this week, but will be available from next week.

We realise that this last-minute change of arrangements provides yet further uncertainty in an already difficult year. We had some very good news this week about the approval of the Oxford vaccine for use in the UK. This provides us hope that we will be able to return to a more normal studying environment later in the year, but, for now, we would like to thank you for your patience as we work through this difficult period.

Professor Martin Williams, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education)
Miles Young, Chair, Conference of Colleges

1 January from Professor Martin Williams and Miles Young to all research students

Important message for all research students: arrangements for the start of Hilary term

We are writing to provide an update about our plans for the start of Hilary term.

On Wednesday 30 December, the UK Government published new guidance about which students are allowed to return to universities in the New Year.

Postgraduate research students are exempt from the guidance, which means that you can continue your research (and return to Oxford if you left during the vacation) as you planned at the end of Michaelmas term.

Only a small number of taught students will be permitted to return at the start of term, with all others being taught remotely until at least 25 January. Taught students have been written to separately with further details.

The importance of testing and health measures on your return

As you will know, there has been a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases at a national level recently, in part as a result of a new strain of the virus. It is therefore vitally important that you continue to follow the health measures and the behaviours outlined in the Student Responsibility Agreement.

If you are coming back to live in Oxford, you are also very strongly advised to get tested for COVID-19. Your college will provide you with three Lateral Flow Device (LFD) tests when you return to Oxford. You should take the first test as soon as possible after you arrive back in Oxford, one three days later, and one more on your tenth day in Oxford. This is extremely important for stopping the spread of the virus.

While LFDs do not detect every case of COVID-19, if you follow the training carefully and take three tests at the start of term, this will significantly increase the chances that cases are detected – and in particular, it will help to detect cases that would otherwise probably be transmitted to others.

Further information

We realise you will have many detailed questions about arrangements for the start of term. Discussions are now taking place about the exact timings of taught students returning, how University and college services will be managed, and a number of other issues. We are committed to providing a fuller update next week.

In the meantime the Christmas vacation page of the University coronavirus site has now been updated with the interim information. A letter from the Universities Minister to all UK students is also available online.

The University is currently in its Fixed Closure Period, so staff may not be available to answer your questions this week, but will be available from next week.

We had some very good news this week about the approval of the Oxford vaccine for use in the UK. This provides us hope that we will be able to return to a more normal studying environment later in the year, but, for now, we would like to thank you for your patience as we work through this difficult period.

Professor Martin Williams, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education)
Miles Young, Chair, Conference of Colleges

17 December from the Vice-Chancellor to all staff

Dear Colleagues,

As this extraordinary term draws to a close I’m writing to thank each and every one of you for all you have done to see the University, and all who work and study here, through this memorable year.

It is a time of mixed emotions: pride in our researchers who have done so much to combat the virus, in our staff who worked tirelessly to ensure that the University’s mission of research and education continued through the pandemic, and in our students who behaved responsibly throughout.

There is also a sense of sadness for all that we have lost this year, and in my own case, for the definitive departure of the UK from the European Union.

And if I am to be completely honest, I should admit to a sense of relief that so many things went as well as they did.

Above all, I feel a sense of optimism for the future. Our vaccine is on its way and will bring untold benefits to our University, our country, and critically to the populations of developing countries around the world. 2021 will be better.

I wish you all an enjoyable and relaxing holiday.

Louise

23 November from the Vice-Chancellor to all staff and students

Dear Colleagues and Students, 

Today is the day we – and people all over the globe – have been waiting for. The day when we would learn the results of the phase III trial of the Oxford Vaccine, ChadOx (ChAdOx1 nCoV-2019).

The results to date suggest a composite efficacy rate of 70%: 90% for people who receive two doses of the vaccine; a half dose followed by a full dose. For people who receive two full doses of the vaccine the efficacy rate is 60%. None of those who received the vaccine became seriously ill or required hospitalization. Vast reams of safety data have been gathered which attest to the safety of the vaccine. 

This is wonderful news as the vaccine, developed jointly with AstraZeneca, will be available at low cost all over the world. It is the result of a global effort with Oxford at the hub. Our colleagues in Thailand, Kenya and Vietnam working on infectious disease have contributed to the research that made this possible. Partners in Brazil and South Africa have been conducting trials of the vaccine which have been integral to this result. Generous foundations and funding agencies in the UK, Europe and the US, along with private individuals, have invested in this research, and partners like the Serum Institute of India will be manufacturing the vaccine at scale for the developing world. Today’s result also demonstrates what can be achieved in the UK when universities, the Government and the private sector are aligned and working together towards a common goal. 

Above all, I would like, on behalf of all of us, to express my appreciation and admiration of the work of Professors Andrew Pollard, Adrian Hill and Sarah Gilbert and the 280 members of their teams who have been working seven days a week since January to get us to this point. 

On March 23rd, eight months ago today, I wrote to you announcing that we were effectively shutting down the university except for essential research. It is truly extraordinary what has been achieved in this time. Clearly, putting our brainpower in service to society is what we do best. 

I know that this has been a very difficult eight months for many of us, students and staff alike. While today’s news shows a bright light at the end of the tunnel, we still have some difficult times ahead. It is not yet time to relax, to travel and socialize or to mourn properly those we have lost. Colleagues across the collegiate university are working hard to ensure that we will be able to offer two lateral flow tests to all students in 8th week so that you can safely travel home for Christmas confident that you will not be endangering the health of your family and friends. 

Today’s news brings closer the day when people all over the world will have access to a safe, effective and affordable vaccine against COVID-19. I hope that, like me, you feel an enormous sense of pride in being part of the university that has made this possible. 

Yours sincerely, 

Louise Richardson 
Vice-Chancellor

3 November from the Vice-Chancellor to all taught students

Dear Students,

You will always look back on this period of your lives and realize what a unique experience you had as university students during a global pandemic.

I know that the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, Professor Williams, wrote to you yesterday explaining that, as education is exempt from the national lockdown due to begin on Thursday, the University will be continuing broadly as we have been since the beginning of Michaelmas term. I know that your College is also in touch with you about the implications of changing government guidance.

I would like to express my deep appreciation to College staff for the work they have been doing over the past several months to ensure that your educational experience is the best that it can possibly be in these strange circumstances. I also thank the vast majority of students who are following our guidance, and embracing life at Oxford.

I’m writing to you this morning to share a letter from Michelle Donelan MP the Minister of State for Universities. She has asked me to forward this letter to you.

Yours sincerely

Louise Richardson
Vice-Chancellor

2 November from Professor Martin Williams to all students

I am writing to provide an update following the prime minister’s announcement about the introduction of national restrictions across England from this Thursday (5 November).

While the introduction of new restrictions is not what any of us was hoping for, I would like to reassure you that the situation within the University remains stable, and we fully intend that University life will continue throughout this period.

What the new guidance means

The Government guidance states that universities, like other educational institutions, are exempt from many of the new restrictions. We will continue to offer a mix of in-person and online teaching.  Planned in-person examinations will also continue to be administered in a COVID-secure setting, and libraries will remain open, as will our parks and gardens. We will have to close our museums to the public, and there will likely be additional restrictions to sport – details of which will follow in the near future.

Travel restrictions

Oxford remains in Tier 2 restrictions until the fuller lockdown starts on Thursday. Government guidance for Tier 2 is that you must not move back and forward between Oxford and your permanent home during term time. From Thursday, the Government restriction is that you should not return home until the end of term. There are already more stringent rules for travel to other parts of the UK (in particular Wales and Scotland), so it is important that you follow all local guidance. 

Residency requirements at Oxford remain in place until the end of term. Universities are exempt from many of the new restrictions and all the feedback shows that the wide range of measures we have put in place to support you continue to be effective. We therefore encourage you to stay in Oxford to make the most of your academic experience, unless you have specific reasons for needing to leave. If you have any concerns about staying, you should speak to your college in the first instance (or your department if you don’t have a college).

The Government has not yet published guidance about arrangements for the end of term, but we will provide advice as soon as we hear more.

Supporting your wellbeing

We are acutely aware that these are unsettling times for all of us, and that the additional restrictions add to the challenges. We believe that maintaining a mix of online and in-person teaching, and supporting students to keep engaging with their studies, will be beneficial for mental health and wellbeing. The University and colleges are strongly focused on supporting students’ wellbeing, and on providing COVID-safe activities where possible. We are also committed to strengthening our resources in this area, in particular through the new Mental Health Task Force announced in today’s Student News.

Stop the spread

While the Government’s announcement, and the statistics and projections that underlie it, are worrying, it is important to be clear that the level of infection within the University has not risen. Case numbers have been steady for the past two weeks and we have not seen any evidence of transmission in teaching or assessment settings. Nevertheless, it is essential that we all continue to take action to prevent the numbers from rising. In particular we ask you to continue to:

While many students are asymptomatic, if you have COVID-19, you risk passing it on to vulnerable members of the community if you do not follow these rules. 

Testing update

I would like to give you an update about testing at the University. In addition to our testing service for those with symptoms, we are now involved in a trial of rapid Lateral Flow Test to identify those with an asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic infection, in partnership with the Department of Health and Public Health England. Initially this is being trialled in two colleges and one department. If it proves effective, we aim to extend it across the whole University. In the meantime, please continue to use the University testing service as usual – this has proved invaluable in helping us to control the spread within the University.

Thank you

I would like to extend a huge thank you to every student at Oxford. COVID-19 has, of course, changed university life in ways we would not have chosen. However, we have taken a wide range of steps to ensure you can continue with your Oxford experience this year, and I have been heartened by the positive response from our student community. You have all shown great resilience and adaptability, and I am pleased that we can continue to support your education and wider Oxford experience in the weeks ahead.

More detailed information about the new restrictions will be published on the student pages of the University COVID-19 Response site in the near future, so please continue to check back regularly.

If you have any further enquiries, please contact your college or department in the first instance.

Best wishes,

Martin Williams 
Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education)

2 November from Vice-Chancellor to all staff

Dear Colleagues

I am writing to you in light of the prime minister’s announcement on Saturday that England would be entering a second lockdown on Thursday.

I fully appreciate that this was unwelcome news to many of us, especially coming as it does after seven months of restrictions on our activities. You will have noticed, however, that universities, like other educational institutions, are in the fortunate position of being exempt from most of the strictures of this lockdown.

Broadly speaking, we anticipate continuing largely as before. We will have to close to the public and so our museums will have to close, but libraries, gardens, the Arboretum and Wytham Woods will remain open. Unlike in March, we do not anticipate closing University buildings, though those who can work effectively from home are encouraged to do so.

We will continue to offer a mix of in-person and online teaching. I know that some staff, especially those aged over 60 or in vulnerable categories, may be anxious and so may wish to rethink, with departmental support and agreement, their particular mix of face-to-face and online teaching. Examinations will continue to be administered in a COVID-secure setting, and, according to HMG, students will not be permitted to travel home.

The prime minister also mentioned an extension to the furlough programme. We are looking into this and will provide more information as soon as it is available to us. We will continue to adapt our policies in light of national guidance and will constantly update the relevant pages of the website.

Thanks to the extraordinary commitment and detailed planning of colleagues all across the collegiate University, we have been able to welcome back all our undergraduate students, and 75% of our postgraduates have also started in person. While the experience is not what any of us would have wanted, I think we can all take enormous pride in the extent to which we have been able to continue the educational and research mission of the University in spite of the pandemic. It is precisely because of this planning that we are able to adapt to the latest national developments without disrupting the work of the University.

I would like to pay particular tribute to those colleagues and volunteers who have established the University’s COVID-19 testing service in record time and with consummate professionalism. They have been assisted by a large cohort of volunteers, initially medical students and later retired GPs, who have operated our Early Alert Service that has enabled us to keep the pandemic under control. The data clearly reveal that, whenever an outbreak occurs, the college steps in to support students in isolation and prevent the transmission of infection. The overwhelming majority of those testing positive have been undergraduates (88%; postgraduates make up 8% of positive tests and staff 3%). If you would like more information on our test results please see the test results page. While the trajectory of the national and international figures is quite alarming I would like to reassure you that the level of infection within the University remains stable. There have been no cases of classroom transmission or student-to-staff transmission at Oxford, and none nationally, of which I am aware.

As you know, our academics have been leading the global search for a vaccine and for therapeutics to treat the virus. They have been advising government, designing apps and evaluating tests. We hope there will be further opportunities for more of us to be involved as we launch FACTS (Feasibility and Acceptability of community COVID-19 rapid Testing Strategies). This is a trial Oxford has developed with the Department of Health and Public Health England. Initially the test – a Lateral Flow Test – is being trialled in two colleges and one department but, if it proves effective, we will roll it out across the University. If we do so, there will be many opportunities either to volunteer to trial the test, or to volunteer to help with the logistics of the trial. The point of the test is to identify people who have the virus but are not exhibiting symptoms in an effort to prevent their spreading infection.

As a small gesture of appreciation, and in an effort to ensure that everyone gets a good rest at Christmas, I’m happy to tell you that the University will extend the Christmas closure so that it will begin on Saturday, December 19, and run to Monday, January 4. Monday and Tuesday, December 21 and 22, will now be two additional holidays so that you will have a full two-week break. I know that colleges will make their own plans and the demands of work across the collegiate University mean that not everyone will be able to take these particular days off, but I very much hope that everyone will be able to take an extra break as close to Christmas as possible.

When the national lockdown began on March 23 we never imagined that, seven months later, we would still be in partial lockdown and facing the prospect of further restrictions. Yet here we are. We must draw on deep reserves of patience and resilience as we find strength in community, support in family and friends, pleasure in helping others less fortunate, and meaning in knowing that the mission of our University has never been more important.

Yours sincerely

Louise Richardson 

Vice-Chancellor 

2 October from Professor Martin Williams to all students

A message to all new and returning students from the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education)

I am writing ahead of the start of what is shaping up to be an extraordinary academic year to give you an idea about what to expect from the University; and to outline what we need from our student community.

Responding to the pandemic

We are very much aware of the rising number of cases across the UK. We are monitoring the situation very closely and listening to student concerns. The government is currently advising that universities should proceed with a mix of online and in-person provision. As such we are encouraging students to live in Oxford if they can – so that you can benefit from Oxford’s enriching experience.

We have taken a wide range of steps to ensure you can resume in-person teaching safely. However, we know that arriving for the start of term may not be possible for some students – and others may have health and welfare concerns. If you are worried about returning, you should speak to your college or department in the first instance. If you are unable to return, you can apply for a residency exemption, and will be offered online support until you are able to arrive in Oxford.

Our commitment to you

Countless colleagues have been working hard throughout the summer to prepare for the year ahead; I am hugely grateful to them. We are all committed to ensuring your time at Oxford is as rewarding and fulfilling as possible, in light of the unfolding pandemic.
In particular, we are committed to:

  • Offering the highest possible standards of education, maintaining our historic focus on personalised teaching. While lectures will be delivered online, small group teaching, laboratory and practical work will take place in-person where it is possible to do so in a safe and secure manner
  • Taking all the necessary steps to protect your health while you are studying with us
  • Adapting our colleges and accommodation for the pandemic – with the majority of our services open, and a ‘households’ system in place
  • Retaining vital aspects of student life – from online events to support for student clubs and societies
  • Maintaining our outstanding system of welfare and personal support, with additional welfare provision and hardship funding in place for those impacted by the pandemic

Your role in keeping our community safe and well

We are resolute in our commitment to supporting you – but also need your support in helping reduce the spread of COVID-19.

As such it is absolutely critical that everyone follows the steps outlined in our health campaign: Protect the Community. Protect the Vulnerable. Protect Yourself. In particular we ask that you:

  • Keep your distance, wash your hands and wear a face covering
    Some students are exempt from wearing face coverings. They may choose to wear a badge or a lanyard to indicate this, but these are a matter of personal choice.
  • Use the University’s dedicated testing service when you have symptoms
  • Self isolate when necessary.

We also encourage you to download the NHS COVID-19 app.

We worked very closely with Oxford SU as the University’s student representative body to develop our health measures. I would very much encourage you to find out more about the work the SU sabbatical officers are doing for students during the pandemic via the Oxford SU website.

When you arrive in Oxford, your College (or your Department if you don’t have a college) will ask you to sign the COVID-19 Student Responsibility Agreement. The Agreement is our way of asking you to affirm your commitment to protecting our community, and especially the staff who will be working hard to look after you.

The Agreement will be taken seriously, and Colleges and Departments will ensure compliance when and how they deem necessary. We will take a consistent approach to behaviour across the University and Colleges as far as possible, so that you know what to expect. Your college and department can advise you on specific expectations, in line with local arrangements.

Why this matters

These measures are essential for controlling the spread of COVID-19. Failing to adhere to them is likely to put the lives of vulnerable people at risk. This includes fellow students with health conditions, teaching and support staff who you come into contact with, and the wider local community of which we are a part.

Increased numbers of cases will increase the likelihood of lockdowns – which will significantly impact student experience. We need you to work with us to help keep Oxford open.

I know that you all want to keep our community safe and that the overwhelming majority of you will follow this guidance closely. However, I must warn you that students who do not follow University or College disciplinary regulations or who breach government restrictions may be liable to disciplinary processes – up to and including expulsion – or Police fines of up to £10,000.

Keeping you updated

As you know, the situation is evolving rapidly, but we are committed to monitoring and responding to all local and national guidance, and will keep you updated as quickly as we can.

I encourage you to regularly check the student pages of the University’s coronavirus website, which will be continually updated based on the latest situation. The Student News will also be sent on a weekly basis from 0th week, and will also include key information. You should also regularly check your college and departments’ own information channels.

As ever, your college or department will be best placed to respond to any questions you may have, and I will be hosting a webinar at the virtual Freshers’ Fair, where I look forward to speaking to many of you direct.

We coped with the pandemic over the past six months, in large part thanks to the adaptability, resilience and kindness of Oxford students. I have no doubt that you will all rise to the challenges of the next few months, and continue to contribute positively to our community, regardless of what the ongoing pandemic brings our way.

All the very best for the year ahead.

Martin Williams
Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education)

14 September Staff Open Forum

Preparing for Michaelmas term: slides from the Michaelmas Coordination Group given at the VC's Open Forum.

7 September from the Vice-Chancellor to all staff

Dear Colleagues,

Welcome to September. Ordinarily, at this time of year we are renewed and refreshed after taking some time off over the summer. I know that many of us have had to curtail our holidays as we prepare for the academic term ahead. Indeed, over the past six months we have all relied heavily on the deep reserves of talent and dedication across our community as we have adapted our research, our teaching and our ways of working to the constraints imposed by COVID-19.

I would like to express my appreciation to each one of you, as well as my pride in working in an institution in which so many people have volunteered to do more, and have worked collaboratively and creatively across colleges, administrative units and academic departments. In particular, I would like to express my thanks to those of you working in Admissions across the University for the extraordinary way you responded to the A-level debacle and protected the interests of prospective students.

Thanks to your commitment, we have achieved a great deal and we are prepared for the term to come. We have moved down to stage 2 of our emergency response process, which means that we are operating in line with social distancing restrictions and expecting to optimise our research and welcome a full cohort of students in Michaelmas term.

We have reopened 119 buildings with 75% of laboratory, special facility, library and collections buildings in MSD, MPLS and GLAM open, with a further 16% in the final stages of the reopening process. 92% of Humanities and Social Sciences Buildings are either open or going through a supported reopening process, while 10 UAS buildings are open with a further 32 due to open by the end of September. The reopening of buildings has been a slow and painstaking process requiring, in many cases, a significant internal reconfiguration to reduce coronavirus risk. The Ashmolean and Bodleian have reopened and additional click-and-collect and online services are available. The Botanic Gardens, Harcourt Arboretum and Wytham Woods are open, while the University Parks have remained open throughout.

We have opened our own testing facility for those showing symptoms of COVID-19. Initially testing has been limited to staff but will shortly be available for students too. New technologies are developing quickly and we are constantly evaluating options for better and wider testing. Following the advice of our Health Measures Advisory Group we review developments in government guidance, existing NHS/PHE facilities, local requirements and any new and appropriate tests as they become available.

We are all acutely conscious of our responsibility to protect the health of our staff, our students and the local community. With this in mind, today we are launching a COVID-19 Health Campaign. The key message of the campaign is: 'Protect our Community. Protect the Vulnerable. Protect Yourself'. This campaign has been created with guidance from the University’s medical and behavioural experts and in consultation with colleagues across the collegiate University. It draws together all the advice we have developed and guidance we have agreed throughout the summer into a collection of over 80 communication tools: videos, printed material, signs and social media content. It offers advice and information on: adhering to social distancing requirements; washing/sanitising hands; wearing face coverings; reporting symptoms and self-isolation; participating in testing and contact tracing.

I hope you are finding that you are receiving all the information you need. We will be holding an Open Forum on September 14 on preparations for Michaelmas term should you have other questions.

The launch of the Health Campaign coincides with the launch of the Student Responsibility Agreement, which all students are required to sign to confirm that they will follow the behaviours expected of them. As members of this community, whether students or staff, we are all going to have to adopt new ways of interacting with one another in order to mitigate the risk of infection. We also have a responsibility to our City, and we hope that with this Campaign and this Agreement, we will demonstrate our determination to act responsibly to protect the health of the wider Oxford community.

On the one hand, it is quite sobering to consider that we are facing the winter with the virus still posing a grave threat. On the other hand, over the past six months we have demonstrated that we can adapt and can continue to advance our mission of research and teaching. We understand the virus far better now, we know who is most vulnerable, we know what we can do to mitigate the risk of infection, we have much better therapeutics to treat it, and above all, we are much closer to a vaccine.

Finally, I would like to sign off by acknowledging the national and global recognition we have received this past week. For the fifth consecutive year, Oxford was ranked number 1 in the world by the Times Higher Education Rankings. We were ranked number 1 in the country by the Guardian University Ranking. The THE ranking emphasises research and global connections, the Guardian focuses on teaching and career prospects for students. That we have prevailed simultaneously in both is a remarkable achievement, a testament to the calibre of the people who work and study here, and an indication of the importance of the mission we must strive to protect in the challenging months to come.

Yours sincerely,

Louise Richardson
Vice-Chancellor

24 July from Professor Martin Williams, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) and Dr Mark Wormald, Chair of Senior Tutors’ Committee to all staff

Dear Colleagues,

Further to the Vice-Chancellor’s message last week, we are writing to provide an update about how we all have been responding to the ongoing pandemic in relation to education and students. This message will be particularly relevant to academic staff, but may also be of interest to professional staff in student-facing roles.

Collective effort in Trinity term
We would like to start by acknowledging the enormous collective effort which got us through a very long and challenging Trinity term. We fully appreciate how much work went into supporting our students through such a turbulent period and would like to thank you for everything you have done to date.

We are all committed to learning from our experiences in Trinity term, and are now undertaking a rapid review of teaching and assessment – helping us to build on what worked well, and improve on areas where we experienced challenges. Early insights from the student survey have been very positive, and a staff survey is ongoing. Please do complete the staff survey before the deadline at the end of next Friday (31 July) if you haven’t already, as your insights will be invaluable as we move towards Michaelmas term.

Planning for the next academic year
The University centrally, departments, faculties and colleges have all now begun the complex and involved process of planning for the 2020/21 academic year, so that we all can resume teaching and research in as full a way as possible, with an ongoing commitment to maintaining our focus on personalised teaching.

A number of project groups have been formed to help us all prepare, with balanced university and college membership. This includes two teaching space groups - one focused on classroom-type teaching and the other on laboratory teaching; and a Student Experience Co-ordination Group - looking at the broader aspects of student life, including a behaviour code. For more information, please see the Michaelmas term 2020 page on the University website.

You will be aware that the University is encouraging students to return to Oxford for the start of the academic year – something which we understand many of our colleagues in departments, faculties and colleges are keen to support. We know from student feedback that they value in-person teaching very highly, and we hope that each student can receive the appropriate mix of in-person and online support as the year progresses – across their department/faculty and college teaching and learning. Whatever the mix of face-to-face and online, everyone wants students to have as fulfilling an experience as possible, and to benefit from being physically present in Oxford.

We expect that a relatively small number of students will be unable to return in Michaelmas term (particularly at taught postgraduate level) – and in these cases, we must all endeavour to provide an opportunity for them to start remotely, with as full an educational experience as possible. The Centre for Teaching and Learning can advise on approaches to this that minimise duplication of effort. We also need teaching preparation to take account of the risk of a return to lockdown or of a large number of students having to isolate for a period.

Support for colleagues
It is important that detailed education planning is conducted locally by academic and professional staff who understand the needs of individual cohorts of students. However, we fully appreciate the level of concern that many colleagues have about the year ahead – including around workload – and the University aims to support you as much as possible.

For example, the Centre for Teaching and Learning has developed a range of resources to help support a flexible and inclusive approach to teaching. The Teaching Remotely page has been updated with a range of resources in this area, and a series of webinars is now underway.

Resource has also been increased in the Centre for Teaching and Learning to support academics preparing online materials, which may be augmented locally by departments and faculties. One specific example is looking at the provision of dedicated spaces for academics to record and process their online teaching material, rather than having to rely on their home IT resources and internet connection. Departments and faculties will also be allowed some additional flexibility when setting their budgets to partially offset the added costs that they will incur delivering teaching in the current circumstances. Full details of these new measures will follow in the near future.

The University is following health guidance aimed at minimising risks, including providing a free testing service for staff and students, maintaining the 2-metre social distancing requirement in most teaching settings, and requiring the use of face coverings. We understand that there will be some colleagues who are clinically vulnerable and others who may be concerned about their own personal risk in returning to in-person teaching. A framework has been developed to identify and support colleagues with any vulnerability or other factors that require consideration before agreeing an approach to achieve a safe return to work. Guidance will be published shortly.

Governance and communications
Ongoing consultation with colleagues across the University and colleges has been key in recent months, and we would like to finish by summarising our approach to governance and communications briefly.

As you will be aware, the University is working within its Crisis Management Framework, and key education policy and planning decisions have been taken by Education Steering Group, a sub-set of Education Committee chaired by the PVC Education, with senior academic representation from our Divisions and Colleges. Planning for Michaelmas term is led by the Michaelmas Coordination Group (MCG), co-chaired by Professor Karen O'Brien, Head of the Humanities Division and Baroness Jan Royall, Principal of Somerville College.

A system has been developed in which updates are cascaded regularly through divisions to colleagues’ departments/faculties for local forwarding as appropriate, with a similar approach on the college side. While we think that this is the most efficient way of disseminating information, we realise that sometimes these messages may not reach every intended recipient; a full archive of the cascade messages can be found on SharePoint. The latest information that has been shared with students is available on the student coronavirus advice page on the University website, and the latest information for student-facing staff can be found on the Academic Support site.

Regular briefings for key committees are taking place on an ongoing basis, and we plan to host an ‘Open Forum’ event focused on education in September. Please do get in touch via this email address if you have any questions or suggestions at this stage.

We would like to thank you once again for your tremendous efforts to date. We hope that you all have an opportunity to have a break over the summer months ahead of what we expect to be another extraordinary – but we hope successful – academic year.

Best wishes,

Professor Martin Williams, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education)
Dr Mark Wormald, Chair of Senior Tutors’ Committee

14 July from the Vice-Chancellor to all staff

Dear Colleagues,

As the academic year draws to a close, I wanted to write to thank each of you for the patience, resilience, commitment and talent you have demonstrated over the past several months, and on which we will all continue to rely in the months to come. A sense of shared endeavour and a deeply collaborative attitude has prevailed, as we adapted to the rigours of the lockdown and ensured our students received the education and assessment they deserved in Trinity term.

Council met yesterday and approved the budget for the year. We are in the deeply fortunate position that we have reserves on which we can draw which means that we have been able to avoid the more radical steps other institutions have taken. The University has committed to protecting the jobs we have, to seeing through our commitment to the Oxford Living Wage, and to ensuring that all staff on furlough receive 100% of their salary. We have invested in our Postgraduate Research (PGR) students to ensure that they have the time to complete their degrees, and we have enhanced our returning carers fund to ease the return to work. We have invested in IT to ensure that we can operate more effectively in this new world and we have brought forward plans for a new integrated system in the libraries to ensure greater access to our superb collections. We are investing in COVID-19 testing facilities for our students and staff. We have also had to cut costs and shelve treasured plans, and I know that this has been painful. At all times we have sought to balance our responsibilities to protect our mission, to care for our current staff, and to be mindful of our successors.

Last term, as we moved teaching online, closed our buildings and adapted to remote working, our academics continued to research, to publish and to form spin out companies. We announced a new graduate College, Reuben College, with an £80 million gift including endowed scholarships for students from deprived backgrounds. The publication of our Access report revealed real progress in diversifying our undergraduate student body. At 62.3% we admitted our highest ever number of students educated at state schools. Over the past five years the number of students from the most deprived parts of the country has risen from 8.6% to 12.2% and the number of BAME students has risen from 14.5% to over 22%. Notwithstanding this progress on Admissions, in the wake of the BLM protests, we were reminded of the depths of alienation felt by many BAME members of our community. We must address this sense of alienation. We must ensure that every member of our community is, and believes themselves to be, an equal member. The diversity of our community is part of its strength and we should celebrate it.

Over the summer we have three priorities: reopening our buildings, putting health measures in place, and planning for Michaelmas term. Over 70 – mainly lab based – buildings are now open, with the pace accelerating as experience is gained. Increasingly we are turning our attention to libraries and museums too. Details can be found on the returning to on-site working page. With the support of a team from the Medical Sciences Division we are putting comprehensive health measures in place for next term so that we can all feel reassured as we return to work. You can find more details on the Health and protection page. The planning for Michaelmas term is fiendishly complicated, and involves enormous effort by a large number of colleagues from across colleges and departments to whom we are all indebted. You can find more detail on the Michaelmas 2020 page.

With so much activity, I appreciate that it is difficult to stay informed but I do hope you are able to find the information you need. We have sought to communicate through all-staff emails like this, through the new weekly Blueprint Bulletin, through Open Forum events, through biweekly cascades of operational information to departments, and finally though the COVID-19 advice pages on the website.

The summer, and especially August, is usually a time to take it easy, concentrate on research, and go on holidays. This year will inevitably be different for many of us. I know that planning for next term will require a significant amount of work for many people. I strongly encourage you, however, to take a break and take some holidays. Individual departments may choose to have meeting-free Fridays, or quiet weeks in August, but I hope everyone will remember the importance of taking a rest before next term. The summer traditionally comes to an end with the August Bank holiday which this year falls on the 31st. This year the University will close, in addition, on Friday August 28th to give all University staff not on furlough an extra day off and a long weekend.

I know that this period since the lockdown has felt endless and is a real test of our resilience, but in the broader scheme of things, and certainly in the long history of this University, it is a brief blip. This University has weathered pandemics in the past and all the indications are that we will have more pandemics in the future. Thanks to you, we have adapted extraordinarily well. We have been amazed at what technology can do for us, enabling us to schedule meetings or teach from home. We have also learned its limitations; there is no substitute for a lab experiment and there is simply no substitute for the spontaneous and informal human interactions that occur throughout the day in an office, in which ideas are generated, problems solved, information shared and friendships enjoyed.

Even as the constraints of the lockdown are relaxed, I detect a patina of concern as we go out and meet others again; a sense of loss, for the casual and constant human interactions that formerly made up our lives. For some, of course, the loss has been so much greater. For most of us the pandemic is an unpleasant disruption, for some it has brought heartbreak. Our hearts go out to those who have suffered.

I have often said that universities like Oxford have lasted as long as we have because of the enduring value of what we do. The importance of our work has never been more apparent. Our colleagues are helping the world to understand the virus and its differential impact on people by age, race, and background. Our colleagues are saving lives by testing and developing therapeutics, such as the discovery of the role of dexamethasone in reducing deaths of patients on ventilators by 35%. Our colleagues are at the cutting edge of the world’s race for a vaccine against COVID-19. We can all take great pride in their work and in being part of an institution that enables that work to take place.

We still have a long way to go in the battle against this Coronavirus. But as we face many more months of uncertainty, and the very real possibility of a second wave of the virus, we can step forward confident in our demonstrated ability to plan carefully, to execute skilfully, and above all, to work effectively together. Thank you for all you have done.

Yours sincerely,

Louise Richardson
Vice-Chancellor

10 June from Professor Patrick Grant to all staff

Dear Colleagues,

Following my message of 15 May (see below) that shared our plans to begin a safe and measured return to working in University buildings, I would like to update you on the next phase of this work.

The pilot phase in which nine departments began work to reopen 13 buildings that had been closed since March has progressed well. The learning we are gaining from these pilot departments is being incorporated into protocols and processes; these will guide the management of risk in the progressive opening of more and more University buildings over the coming weeks.

The next phase is to reopen remaining experimental lab-based buildings and selected library buildings on a schedule we have consulted on in detail, spread over the next 6-8 weeks. In line with government guidance, these buildings will be reopened only to support work that cannot be performed remotely and will include strict measures for social distancing.

For library buildings, the limited reopening is to provide remote services to readers; reading rooms must remain closed under government guidance. I would like to emphasise that because reopening involves many support functions of the University (depending on the building complexity), we must proceed according to an agreed timetable. I am grateful for your patience, which I know is being tested for those of you keen to get back to your normal place of work.

Then, after the reopening of labs, prioritised library and other facilities, further University buildings will begin to reopen. This will take place over the later part of the summer, and details of this schedule will be provided once consultation is complete.

Even if the building in which you normally work is reopened, you may still be asked to continue to work from home because, in line with government advice, only work that cannot be progressed remotely is currently within scope. If government advice changes, we will amend our plans.

The reopening plan will no doubt be welcomed by many and met with caution by others, and you may have questions about when you can return to your buildings and laboratories, if you will be able to return, how you will find out about this, and what you will need to do to stay safe. Details and full guidance are available on our return to on-site working webpage, and this information will be updated regularly. I would like to reassure you that the safety, physical and mental health, and wellbeing of all our staff are of paramount importance, and our first consideration in planning.

The overall aim of these plans, and other steps we will take to support departments, staff and students, is to find ways that maximise the extent of teaching and research we can conduct while managing risk. The current return to on-site working programme will feed into, and will become part of, the wider work of the Michaelmas Coordination Group.

Adapting our buildings, facilities and working practices to the "new normal" requires patience, collaboration and communication. We might not always get things right, and we must be flexible to optimise and improve as we go along. We will listen – to government guidance, to our professional and academic experts, and to you – and we will always put safety first.

I would like to thank the many individuals and teams across the collegiate University who have worked so hard in a short time frame to advance our plans for returning to on-site working and those staff who have remained working on site since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, either to conduct the essential research we all feel proud to be part of, or to keep essential operations running.

Yours sincerely,

Patrick Grant
Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research)

8 June from the Vice-Chancellor to all staff

Dear Colleagues,

As we enter the seventh week of term I know that everyone is exhausted. I am writing to acknowledge just how hard everyone has been working to transform Trinity term and ensure that our students receive a true Oxford education in these unprecedented times. I would like to express my deep appreciation to all the colleagues who have tirelessly adapted their teaching for the benefit of their students. I am also grateful to colleagues in the administration whose work has been relentless.

I have to acknowledge too the devastating impact on all of us of watching a defenceless man being murdered before our eyes on television, while the perpetrator’s colleagues looked on with depraved indifference. This has understandably led to protests against police brutality and racism across the globe. Here in Oxford it has also led to protests about our past and a legitimate insistence that we take practical steps to accelerate the pace of change and to ensure that every member of our community is treated fairly and equally. I will be addressing these issues jointly with the conference of colleges in a separate communication.

We have been asking students for feedback on teaching and assessment this term and the responses have been overwhelmingly positive. Students have praised the commitment, the sensitivity, the patience, and the skill of their tutors. Online assessments have also been going more smoothly than we dared to hope. I know that all of this has come at a high cost in time and effort on your part, and I would like to thank you. Under normal circumstances, ninth week is the week of Encaenia and Garden Parties when we celebrate the conclusion of another academic year. This year will, of course, be different. But I would like to suggest that everyone turn off your computers on the Friday of ninth week, June 26th. Please do not send emails, or convene or attend online meetings. Please take a break and enjoy a long weekend. (I know that a small number of colleagues will have exams to manage that day, so please take an alternative day off.)

We would love to receive your feedback on Trinity term. Please tell us what you feel worked well and what did not. We will use this information to inform our plans and improve the experience for next term. You can provide your feedback by completing a short survey. I know that the prospect of Michaelmas term under social distancing constraints is a daunting one and will require attention between now and the start of term. I hope that you will not neglect summer holidays and ensure that you can start the new term refreshed. Our Michaelmas term Coordinating Group will be providing details as soon as they possibly can. You will be able to find updates on the coronavirus webpages.

While many of you have been dedicated to meeting the challenge of on-line teaching and examining this term, you will also have been trying to make progress on your research. We are particularly concerned about our early career researchers and the pressure they must feel to demonstrate progress across research, teaching and administration in these times. We are considering where we can alter policies to reflect the impact of the pandemic. Personnel Committee, for example, is considering ways in which the Initial Period of Office (IPO) for Associate Professors might be adjusted to account for Covid-19 disruption. If there are other policies that you think we ought to consider, please let us know.

Staff well-being was identified as a priority in the Strategic Plan. A Well-Being Programme Board has been established and a staff Health and Wellbeing Strategy is being considered by Personnel Committee. Meanwhile, we have brought together some materials that I hope you find helpful on our website.

There are emerging signs of a return to a version of normalcy. We are starting to reopen nurseries and more colleagues are gradually being allowed back to their labs as departments develop a schedule and implement safety measures. We plan to open the the Arboretum and the Botanic Gardens in mid-June.

It has been a very difficult few months but the members of this community have pulled together and worked harder than ever before. Thank you.

Yours sincerely

Louise Richardson

Vice-Chancellor

27 May from the Vice-Chancellor to all staff and students

Dear Students and Colleagues,

As we emerge from another May bank holiday weekend and enter half term we are all acutely conscious that the usual markers do not apply in this time of lockdown. We have gradually realized that this is no short sharp crisis; rather, more than 9 weeks after we closed our buildings, it is clear that emerging from this crisis will be a slow and protracted process requiring patience and planning.

Tutors are nevertheless teaching and students studying as they have always done. I would, again, like to express my appreciation and admiration for the way we have adapted our teaching and assessment to this unprecedented situation. (I’m told that we held 40,000 Teams meetings alone in April.)

In times of uncertainty, the natural instinct is to hold on to the familiar. Many of us are craving a return to normalcy, to seeing our family and friends, to spontaneous interactions with colleagues, to picking up coffee or going out for a drink. I hope that when we return it will be to something even better than what we have left. We will have a new appreciation for the familiar, but I hope all of us will think of ways to improve our personal and professional lives and adapt to what we have learned so that we can build an even better future together.

Just as the pandemic has exposed the deep inequalities in our society, the impact of the pandemic has been felt differentially across our community. Some have been delighted to have more time with immediate families while others have struggled with the financial impact of partners losing their jobs. Long-anticipated degree ceremonies will not be happening this summer and our graduating students will be entering a very difficult labour market. I would like to remind you of the hardship funds that have been established to help the worst-affected students and staff and I would encourage everyone who can to contribute.

As the Prime Minister indicates that the constraints under which we have been living may be loosening I thought I would update you on the activities of senior teams as we try, with your help, to steward the University through this crisis.

We have organized a large number of committees at University, college, division and department level to draw as many people into the planning as possible and to ensure our integration with the usual governance structures. Our lodestar throughout is the advancement of the University’s mission of research, teaching and contributing to the world around us.

At the moment we are focused on three areas. First, we are still attempting to understand the financial implications of COVID-19 for the University. It will be several months before we understand the full financial impact but we know now that we will respond by a combination of protecting our income, containing our costs, and drawing on our reserves to see us through the crisis.

The second major piece of work is the return to onsite working. Our community, like the country generally, appears to be divided between those very anxious to get back to their labs and offices immediately, and those quite frightened of returning to their workplaces. There are not many certitudes in the current environment but we do know that it will be a long time before our buildings are fully occupied, and it is our intention that by the time they are, everyone will be reassured that risks have been effectively managed. Our COVID-19 researchers have remained in their labs throughout the crisis and we have been piloting the return of a number of departments. It turns out that it is a great deal easier to close a building than reopen it and plan its operation in accordance with government safety guidance. This process, which is being devolved to departments and assisted by Estates, will continue in the coming weeks as more colleagues are able to return to their labs. I would ask those of you who are eager to return to have patience and remind everyone that, in keeping with government guidance, we are asking all those who can work from home to continue to do so.

The third major piece of work is planning for Michaelmas term. We have every intention of resuming the life of the University next term with as large a student cohort as possible and with the optimal combination of face-to-face and online teaching alongside our globally recognized research, all while adhering to Government safety guidelines. I would like to thank the many colleagues – both academic and operational – from all across the collegiate University who are engaged in the very detailed planning involved. The Michaelmas Co-ordination Group is being co-chaired by Baroness Jan Royall, Principal of Somerville College and Professor Karen O’Brien, Head of the Humanities Division, and is drawing in widespread representation and expertise from colleges and departments which will enable maximum communication and consultation.

In many ways universities, and especially this one, have come into their own during this crisis. While we have not yet managed to persuade the Government to underwrite our lost income, there is nevertheless a growing realization that our universities will be critical to the regeneration of the nation’s economy.

There is also a growing appreciation of the critical importance of our research. It turns out that people cannot get enough of experts, after all. Our academics are regularly referenced at Government press briefings, they are constantly interviewed and cited in the media, and their crucial contribution to the national effort to respond to the pandemic is well recognized. People across the world are wishing success to our medics who are trying to find an effective vaccine as well as those who are testing medicines to mitigate the severity of the disease. I would like to thank our colleagues in the Public Affairs Department who have been working flat out to manage the global interest in our research.

Our research profile has never been higher than it is at present. This means that in the aftermath of the crisis we will be able to recruit the best academics and the best students, all attracted by the prospect of working with others of their calibre in an institution committed to creating an environment in which they can do their best work. That has been the secret of our success in the past and will be the key to our success in the future.

Yours sincerely,
Louise Richardson
Vice-Chancellor

15 May from Professor Patrick Grant to all staff

Dear colleagues,

Many of you will have heard the Prime Minister's statement last Sunday on the limited relaxation of the COVID-19 lockdown and be aware of the subsequent publication of government guidance on a return to work. Following this, I want to update you on what the new government guidance means for us and the plans for a return to working in University buildings.

First, I would like to acknowledge that you have had your professional and personal lives disrupted, sometimes severely, by the pandemic and the working from home requirements. Echoing earlier messages from the Vice-Chancellor, I would like to thank everyone in all roles for their flexibility and adaptability.

Many of us are keen to return to on-site activity but will have concerns about returning in the current circumstances. We are approaching the return to work carefully and the safety of our staff and students is paramount and guides our plan for the return to on-site working.

For staff who can perform their work from home, they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. I realise this will disappoint some of you but it is a clear requirement within the current government guidance. The initial focus of our plans to return to working in our buildings only involves activity that cannot be performed by working from home, such as laboratory-based research. If government advice changes, we will adapt our plans swiftly.

Within these parameters, a return to on-site working in University buildings has begun. Earlier this week we began to pilot our plans and guidance (including latest government guidance), involving ten volunteer departments. These departments join those experimental facilities that have stayed open throughout the lockdown, researching how to tackle the pandemic.

The pilots have shown that resuming our on-site working will be a complex task and will require significant changes in how we work. This will include how we move around our buildings, when we arrive and leave work, and how we meet, interact and access facilities. The impact of ongoing social distancing requirements will restrict the occupation density and layout of our space. In the early stages of the return, this means choices are having to be made about which activities come back first, to manage the occupation density and to minimise demand on support services. I understand these choices, which are made at the departmental level with divisional support, may cause disappointment for some and your understanding is greatly appreciated.

We will undoubtedly learn quickly and we must exercise patience as we take feedback on board and consult appropriately and inclusively. In particular, the preparation and reconfiguration of buildings for re-opening makes large demands of our support services, which have reduced numbers of available staff. Please do not return to on-site working unless you have been advised to do so through your head of department.

In a few weeks, as more departments receive and implement our detailed guidance, the pilots will transition to a progressive wider roll-out of on-site working across more and more departments and buildings, and I am grateful to administrative teams for taking on this detailed work. The Bodleian is also working on a phased re-introduction of services, and will shortly be providing our students and research community with further details.

We will extend the opportunity for on-site working to some postgraduate research (DPhil) students who are currently living in Oxford and are able to commute on a daily basis to their research facility, and so would not be subject to any broader government restrictions on travel. Detailed timing is being worked on, involving further consultation.

As your department applies the guidance to its plans for a return to on-site working, you will be contacted with information on the changes that are being made, and what they may mean for any changes for you in how and where you work. As plans are implemented, they will account for the needs of those who are vulnerable and individuals with caring responsibilities.

Information on our return to on-site working, including FAQs and advice for staff and managers, is being brought together in a new webpage. This page will be updated regularly as more information becomes available.

I would like to thank the pilot departments, units and supporting services, and all members of the University for their patience, help and continued work in this difficult time.

Yours sincerely,

Patrick Grant
Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research)

6 May from the Vice-Chancellor to all staff and students

Dear Colleagues and students,

It's hard to believe this is Second Week of Trinity Term. The familiar streets are deserted, devoid of posters announcing musical and theatre performances, and students in sub fusc sporting carnations. The work of the University nevertheless continues and I would like to express my appreciation and admiration to those staff and students who have adapted so quickly to teaching and to studying in a strange new environment.

Like most global phenomena, this pandemic has exposed deep inequalities in our society. Some people are more vulnerable to this virus than others, depending on age, on health, on post-code, on occupation. Some people are feeling its effects more keenly than others, due to their living situation and family circumstances. As a community we cannot fix these inequities, but we can help one another in this difficult time.

I am pleased to announce that we have created two hardship funds for those adversely affected by COVID-19, one for staff and one for students. Students can learn how to gain access to the fund on the Oxford Students website and staff on the HR web pages. I encourage all those members of the University who would like to contribute to these funds to do so. You can make a contribution through the Development Office. We will be asking alumni and friends of the University to contribute to these funds but I hope that colleagues across the University will also choose to help.

As a University, our biggest contribution to the management of this global crisis is the work of our researchers. Colleagues are advising the government on modelling the disease, and developing tracing and patient monitoring apps. Our colleagues in Medical Sciences are working in the NHS, they are testing therapeutics to treat the disease, and they are working on developing a vaccine. You will have seen in the media that the University entered a partnership with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to ensure that, if the Oxford vaccine proves effective, it can be manufactured at scale and distributed at cost throughout the world. If you would like to learn more about our research please follow the new series "Covid Conversations" organized by our Public Affairs Directorate.

It is looking increasingly likely that the Government will soon begin to start loosening the restrictions on our movements. I know that this will be welcome news to many of you who are eager to get back to your research. Next week we are starting a pilot program with several departments across the University to facilitate a limited number of colleagues returning to work while adhering to the official guidelines. We will learn from these pilots and the experience of our COVID-19 researchers, who have remained onsite throughout the lockdown, as we gradually facilitate the return to work of more of our colleagues.

Over the next several months we will be planning for Michaelmas term. We intend to open for the next academic year in October, but in a changed world. As far as possible, we will preserve the face-to-face personalized education that is our hallmark. It may be, however, that social distance guidance will require that large group lecture teaching may have to be online, though our online offerings will be more developed than those assembled at short notice this term. In order to ensure the safety of our students and staff we anticipate that we will adopt a policy of test, trace and isolate. A great many details remain to be worked out, but extensive consultation is underway across the collegiate University in order to optimize our ability to operate safely next academic year as we continue to advance our mission of research, teaching and contributing to the world around us.

We haven't had a great many causes to celebrate lately so I hope that, like me, you enjoyed the 2020 iteration of Magdalen College's May Day celebration.

With best wishes to you and your families.

Louise Richardson
Vice-Chancellor

21 April from Professor Anne Trefethen to all staff

Dear Colleagues,

Following the Vice-Chancellor’s email earlier today, I’d like to echo her heartfelt thanks to all in the collegiate University community. The impacts of Covid-19 have brought rapid and often uncomfortable changes to the way we live and work and have left no one unaffected. It has been remarkable to see how colleagues have adapted and responded to what have been extremely challenging circumstances and have come together to support each other, while also caring for families, and often volunteering in the community.

As noted by the Vice-Chancellor we are beginning to understand the impact on the finances of the University. The lockdown has resulted in significant and immediate losses to our income and those losses are likely to continue through 2020/21. In order to sustain our academic excellence, secure the future for our staff and students, and mitigate any longer-term risks, we need to take sensible, pragmatic actions now.

As indicated by the Vice-Chancellor from today, we are taking the following steps:

1. A new recruitment freeze and redeployment protocol will be implemented initially for 12 months. It will:

  • define a stricter authorisation process for the recruitment of all staff, except research posts that are fully funded from external grants; and
  • support our current staff by strengthening redeployment arrangements to allow movement between roles to offer opportunities for those whose contracts are ending.

2. For staff unable to work because of the nature of their jobs or their caring responsibilities, we will place them on furlough and apply to the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS).

Furloughed staff members will see no changes to their salaries, benefits or pension arrangements due to the furlough arrangements; they remain employees on the same terms and conditions, but carry out no work at all for the University during the period of their furlough.

This will be rolled out as a pilot scheme in six departments in the next few days and having learned from the pilot will be rolled out to the rest of the University in the week beginning 27 April. This will allow us to assess and revise our guidance to make the process as smooth as possible for all involved. We will review our engagement with the JRS and its implementation in line with Government updates.

3. We are continuing to engage with funders and government and seeking to obtain cost extensions to grants where research has been disrupted in order to ensure continuity of our research excellence and delivery of our research aims.

We believe these changes are necessary to support our staff through the current situation and to sustain the excellence of our teaching and vitally-needed research. As the period of the current lockdown and its financial consequences become clearer, we should be better positioned to judge whether these mitigating actions are sufficient or further actions need to be taken. Our aim is to ensure that we emerge from this as a stronger institution, and these measures will help mitigate the immediate negative impacts of financial losses.

Full details of these protocols and guidance on their implementation can be found on the University's website and will be updated as required.

Over the coming weeks, we will continue to work with colleagues in the divisional offices and departments to provide the support needed to implement these protocols in each area of the University. More details will follow from your division or department.

I hope that this information addresses any questions you have about these next steps for the University. I welcome your feedback as we implement these changes and thank you in advance for your support in helping us manage them.

If you have questions that are not answered on the webpage or related guidance please ask your local HR support or departmental administrator in the first instance.

Yours sincerely,

Anne

Professor Anne Trefethen
Pro Vice-Chancellor of People and Gardens, Libraries and Museums

21 April from the Vice-Chancellor to all staff

Dear Colleagues,

Now that the Government has extended the lockdown, the reality that we are engaged in a marathon not a sprint is starting to sink in. 

There have been upsides to this lockdown: we all have a keener appreciation of the extraordinary talent, professionalism and commitment that resides across our University; our air is cleaner, our community stronger, and more wildlife is visible all around us. Indeed, a YouGov poll last week suggested that only 9% of British people want life to return to normal after the lockdown.

We can take pride in the fact that the work of academics across the world, and especially our own academics here in Oxford, will shorten the duration and soften the effects of this crisis. They are developing vaccines to prevent it, drugs to treat it, apps to track it, and labs to test for it.

Thanks to the very hard work of many people across the collegiate University we have plans in place for teaching and assessment in Trinity term, a term that will be unlike any other in our long and storied history.

We are now turning our attention to the longer-term, as we plan for the next academic year and consider how we will adapt when, as appears likely, some social distancing restrictions remain in place.

We are also attempting to understand the full financial impact of this crisis on the University. We know that our income from research funders, international students, the endowment, the press, executive education, and commercial activity will all decline, at a time when our costs will remain constant or increase. Like everyone else, we are operating under conditions of considerable uncertainty so we don’t yet know the scale of the losses we will face.

As we confront the financial implications of this pandemic, our priority will be to protect the research, teaching, and societal contribution, which have long been our hallmark. In order to do this we will have to work to protect our income and contain our costs, and this won’t be easy.

In order to retain as much financial flexibility as possible, we have taken immediate action on our capital programme. Projects – such as Biochem 2, demolition of the Tinbergen, and repairing the Radcliffe Science Library basement – which are already under contract and on site, will be completed. Projects that are at the conceptual development stage will also continue, but only until the next Gateway decision point. Each will then be reviewed in light of the new financial reality before any further funding is committed.

Our biggest single cost, and our most valuable asset, is our people. Our priority must be to protect our current staff. This is why we are introducing a recruitment freeze and redeployment protocol, and applying for assistance under the Government’s furlough scheme. Later today my colleague, Professor Anne Trefethen, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for People and GLAM, will provide details on the implementation of these new policies.

I know that these actions will be disappointing for some and will require the postponement of many long-held plans. Moreover, they may not suffice to address the scale of the challenge we face. Nevertheless, when we compare ourselves to others, we must realize how fortunate we are to work in an organization with strong financial foundations and in a city with spectacular medical facilities. We can be confident that with careful planning and by working together, we will make our way through this crisis and emerge with a University even better placed to pursue our mission of research, teaching and contributing to the world around us.

Yours sincerely,

Louise Richardson
Vice-Chancellor

1 April from Martin Williams to all students

27 March from the Vice-Chancellor to all staff and students

Dear Colleagues and Students,

Each passing week seems to last a month so much has been happening lately. On Monday last, the Prime Minister imposed severe restrictions on our movements in an effort to curtail the spread of the Coronavirus. In response, the University moved to Stage 4 of our Emergency Response Plan, defined as Working from Home and Buildings Closure. Those of us who had been going to the office moved home and many of our buildings, including our beloved libraries, closed. (The sight of the empty Bodleian quad - beautiful and bare, with gates bolted and barred - seems so unnatural.)

Essential work, particularly research relating to Covid-19, is continuing in some buildings. Other core functions such as animal welfare, security and building maintenance are continuing too. For the time being, all other research is to be conducted at home, as far as possible. We fully appreciate just how difficult this is for so many of our academics, researchers and graduate students. Recent government guidance suggests that non-Covid related work that is considered essential may be permissible, provided it is carried out in keeping with social distancing guidelines. We are working with departments to clarify this point.

The University Parks will remain open until the Government instructs otherwise, so long as those who use them respect the national guidelines on social distancing.

I know that students are very concerned about the impact of the virus on Trinity term and in particular on examinations and assessment. The education teams have been consulting with departments and students and have agreed a set of principles on which the design of assessments will be based. These will be made available at the beginning of next week and will be followed by subject-specific guidance as soon as possible thereafter. FAQs will be updated on the Oxford Students website, and the Academic Support site; please consult them. In an institution as devolved as ours, which has long prided itself on personalised education and instruction tailored to the subject, solutions are not uniform and take longer to agree, but we believe are best suited to each course of study.

I would again like to express my deep appreciation to those colleagues who are working from home while caring for children and concerned for elderly relatives. Others are separated from family and friends and feeling their loss. We are fortunate to have access to video so that, unlike earlier generations, we are not reliant on telephones or waiting for the post to receive news from those we miss.

For those of you who do have time at home please consult our new staff health and wellness webpages. You will find information on working remotely, personal development, useful online resources and stories from your colleagues. There is also guidance on looking after your health, both mental and physical, as well as looking after your family and community. The Department of Continuing Education has also launched a programme of free online learning resources 'Curious minds'.

This University has thrived for as long as it has because of the enduring value of what we do, push at the frontiers of knowledge, educate the next generation, and contribute to the society around us. The third of these has never been more important. Over 500 of our colleagues are working on finding a solution to the problems posed by this pandemic. Please continue to consult our research microsite to learn about their work, work that would not be possible without the talent and commitment of their support staff.

At a community level, some of our Colleges are offering key worker accommodation to the NHS, others are in discussion with Aspire, the homelessness charity about providing short term accommodation to rough sleepers. The Oxford Hub has launched a campaign, 'Oxford Together', to coordinate volunteers across the city, and over 4,000 signed up in one week. Our young final year medical students are graduating early so that they can join the front ranks in the fight against Covid-19. Please join me in wishing them godspeed.

There is an old Irish saying Níl tuile dá mhead nach dtránn - there is no flood that doesn’t recede. Difficult as this time is, it will pass, and when it does I hope we can all look back and take pride in how we came together as a community and how well we fulfilled our mission of research, teaching and contributing to the world around us.

With best wishes to you and your families,
Louise Richardson
Vice-Chancellor

20 March from the Vice-Chancellor to all staff

Dear Colleagues,

I’m writing to you at the end of another long week. It is a week that we will all remember as the gravity of the situation we face sinks in and we adapt our personal and professional lives to the new reality.

I would just like to say a heartfelt thank you to the many colleagues across the collegiate University who have been working flat out to take care of our students, to protect our research, to adapt our teaching, our examinations, our admissions, and so much more, to the new environment. You have done this while balancing concerns for children’s education, the health and well-being of elderly and vulnerable family members, and uncertainty about the financial implications of it all. In doing so you are demonstrating deep commitment to this community and this institution.

Every day I set out in search of silver linings. It makes the day a little easier. I am confident that a year from now, when we all look back on this time, we will be able to take pride in how we looked out for one another and came through it together, and how we as a University contributed to the national effort against Covid-19.

Yours sincerely,

Louise Richardson

Vice-Chancellor

20 March from Martin Williams to all students

17 March from Martin Williams to all students

17 March from Anne Trefethen to staff

Dear Colleagues,

After hearing the government advice yesterday you are undoubtedly wondering how this impacts the University and what it means to you. I hope that this message offers some clarification.

The University’s mode of operation is about to change but the priority should always be your health and wellbeing. The main thing I would ask you to do is to look after yourself, your family, and colleagues. Vulnerable staff should work from home. If you are not able to carry out your role remotely, you will be granted special paid leave. This guidance also applies to people who live with and / or care for elderly people and people with vulnerable health conditions.

The University has closed its public areas including its museums and is asking departments and units to implement local contingency plans. Planning includes working remotely wherever possible. If the nature of your role means you cannot work from home, you should discuss options with your line manager or supervisor. Please rest assured staff will continue to be paid as usual.

While we will seek to maintain as much operational continuity as possible in this difficult period Divisions and Departments will carefully consider their operational requirements before asking staff to work on site. The University has published a guide 'Coronavirus: working from home guide for University staff' in which we have tried to answer the immediate HR questions that you will have including pay, sick leave, holidays and the like.

The government is advising against all non-essential travel, within the UK or abroad. It is unlikely that research, teaching and other University business will be considered essential – although there may be exceptions, such as travel connected with tackling the coronavirus outbreak. Please consider that the global situation is changing rapidly, and if you are overseas then you risk difficulties with local quarantine, flight cancellations and border restrictions.

The change of operations is intended to have effect from today, 17 March 2020, you will hear details from your departments and you will be kept informed by email and via the University’s coronavirus website.

It is a difficult time for us all and we must support each other through it. If you have questions that are not answered on the webpage or the guide please send them to hr-support@admin.ox.ac.uk and we will try to update the site to reflect them.

Look after yourselves,

Anne

Anne Trefethen
Pro Vice-Chancellor of People, Gardens, Libraries and Museums

16 March from Martin Williams to all students

13 March from the Vice-Chancellor to staff and students

Dear Colleagues and Students,

I am writing to you as Hilary term draws to a close to update you on the situation with the Coronavirus (Covid-19).

To date we have six confirmed cases in the student body. We are in regular contact with these students and I am very happy to report that they are recovering well. I would like to thank the college and University teams and Oxford University Hospitals for the support they are providing. Out of respect for their privacy and following advice from Public Health England we have not revealed detailed information about these students.

You will have heard that the Government has now moved from the containment phase to one of delay in its response to the virus. This is an acknowledgement that we anticipate the number of cases to escalate significantly and that we expect this virus to be with us for many months.

You will know that the vast majority of people who are infected with the virus will experience only mild symptoms, and that those who are most at risk are the elderly and those with serious chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes.

In light of the projected length of the pandemic the Government has decided not to invoke at this time the more radical response adopted by some other countries. We are following Government advice. It is nevertheless the case that the operation of the University will inevitably be severely disrupted, starting with the measures outlined below.

I fully appreciate that the disruptions caused will have serious personal and professional consequences for many members of our community and will be deeply disquieting to all of us. I wish I could prevent that. What I can do is promise to communicate with you throughout the course of this crisis and to provide as much information as I can so that you can make decisions in the best interest of yourself, your family and your colleagues. I would also like to reassure you that we are very mindful that some staff and students have particular concerns about their own vulnerability or that of a close family member.  We encourage you to speak in confidence to your college or department about your personal circumstances.

The University intends to remain open until instructed to do otherwise but we will have to develop new ways of working together. In particular, we will have to adapt to using technology for meetings, teaching and assessment in ways we have not done before. This will not be a smooth transition but a great many committed colleagues are working tirelessly to make it as effective as we can. We will use the Easter break to prepare for the transition to online teaching and assessment.

While the Government has not yet instructed us to cancel large gatherings many departments and colleges will make their own decisions about meetings and events.  We encourage the use of technology wherever possible. We have cancelled a number of University access events over the break including Easter UNIQ and the Oxford Cambridge conferences, as well as the Alumni Reunion in Berlin. We have also decided that the May graduations ceremonies will be in absentia only.

All exams scheduled for the Easter break (March 16-April 2) have either been cancelled or rearranged. All students concerned have been notified directly. We are advising all domestic undergraduates to return home for the break unless they have a compelling reason to stay. This is to reduce the density of the population and the strain on college staff and support services.

International students who cannot travel home are welcome to remain.

For now, PGT students are encouraged to stay and study in Oxford.

The University will waive the residency requirements for Trinity term for those PGR students who choose to go home to work on their research.

The University and colleges will do everything possible to support those of you who have to go into self-isolation.

The Medical Science Division is cancelling all clinical teaching until further notice in order to release clinical teachers to the wards.

University museums and gardens will remain open for now. Libraries, like other University services, are putting in place contingency plans to allow services to continue digitally should they be required to close.

At this point, we intend to resume teaching in Trinity term but we will keep you informed as the situation develops nationally.

We are providing extensive information online. Please continue to consult the University website and FAQs which are updated regularly with the latest Government and PHE guidance, including the latest self-isolation guidance. Alongside the main website there is also online support and information for people who are in more medically vulnerable categories, as well as guidance documents on HR issues, events, and remote working.

I fully acknowledge that some of you will have specific questions which will not be covered in the guidance. I would ask for your patience as you contact your college or department for advice. This situation is placing extraordinary demands on many staff across the University. I would ask you to be supportive of each other, to look out for one another’s welfare and to be patient when things go wrong, as inevitably they will.

This is an extraordinary time which is posing a serious challenge to our University community. Personally, I feel great pride in addressing these challenges with a remarkable group of smart and committed colleagues across the University. We will learn a great deal from this experience and I am confident will be a stronger institution when it is all over.

Yours sincerely,
Louise Richardson
Vice-Chancellor

13 March from Martin Williams to all students

7 March from the Vice-Chancellor to staff and students

Dear Colleagues and Students,

I am writing to let you know that Public Health England (PHE) has confirmed that one of our students has tested positive for coronavirus (Covid-19) after returning from travel overseas.

I am constrained in what I can say at the moment, but I am glad to report that the student self-isolated as soon as they developed symptoms and did not attend any university or college events after they fell ill. As a result, PHE has advised that the risk to other students and to staff is very low and that university and college activities can continue. They have also advised that we do not need to take any additional public health actions in light of this case.

It is important to bear in mind that PHE does not consider individuals infectious until they develop symptoms. Colleagues have been working with PHE to ensure that anyone who was in contact with the student after they fell ill has been notified and is able to gain access to both information and support.

We have anticipated this eventuality and have been preparing for it for some weeks now. Moreover, given the rate of infection across the country, there will in all likelihood be other cases. I know this news will be upsetting to some of you. Support will be available through Student Welfare and through Colleges and Departments.

We will continue to share further information as it becomes available here: www.ox.ac.uk/coronavirus.

Yours sincerely,
Louise Richardson
Vice-Chancellor

3 March from Vice-Chancellor to staff and students

Dear Colleagues and Students,

I am writing to update you on the University’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

We are all aware that this is a highly infectious virus and that the number of cases in the UK, while significantly lower than in many other countries, is growing daily. It seems inevitable that we will have cases here in Oxford before too long.

The critical point to bear in mind is that the overwhelming majority (over 80%) of those who contract this virus experience mild symptoms, much like the flu. The fatality rate is difficult to calculate precisely, given the uncertainty of much of the data available from other countries, but it is in the region of 1% and primarily affects the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

For the past several weeks, we have been preparing for an outbreak in Oxford. I chair a Silver Group of senior colleagues from across the collegiate University who have been meeting on a weekly basis, developing plans and deciding on our response. A Bronze Group, chaired by the Registrar, has been meeting biweekly, communicating with colleges and departments, implementing the contingency plans made by the Silver Group and identifying further issues.

We have decided to follow travel advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and public health advice from Public Health England (PHE). A University webpage is updated regularly to reflect new information and updated government advice. I commend this website to you to address any Oxford specific questions you may have. This is the single source of current University policy and guidance on all matters related to coronavirus.

The University and the Conference of Colleges have been working closely together and co-ordinating all our activity. We have identified facilities that we will be able to use should we need to provide central testing or isolation facilities, and Colleges have been working with their students to make arrangements for those who are unable to travel home for the holidays.

As we know, the outbreak of the virus initiated in China. Many of our Chinese and other Asian students and staff have felt isolated or even suspect, especially when wearing face masks. This is a time for us to come together as a community and to support not shun one another. We are a truly global institution and delight in bringing together diverse cultural norms, and we are, above all, a community of scholars and students coming together to learn, to research and to improve the world around us.

Our stellar academics, meanwhile, are doing what they do best, pushing at the frontiers of knowledge. They are attempting to create a vaccine, they are investigating therapeutic responses, and they are modelling the spread of the disease. To learn more about this work, please consult the coronavirus research microsite.

I would like to express my deep appreciation to all those colleagues across the collegiate University who have been working tirelessly to ensure that we are as prepared as we can be for the consequences of an outbreak here in Oxford.

This virus will pass, and when it does, I hope that we will be able to look back with pride on both the humanity and the efficacy of our response.

Yours sincerely
Louise Richardson
Vice-Chancellor

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