Keeping our community safe and well | University of Oxford
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Keeping our community safe and well

Oxford University and its colleges plan to open to students at all levels for the 2020/21 academic year, and we look forward to welcoming all new and continuing students from the start of the Michaelmas term.

The health and safety of all who study and work here is our highest priority.

We are now working on detailed plans for measures we will put in place to minimise the risks to staff and students. These will include:

  • A University testing service that will be open to all academic and non-academic staff and students 
  • Protective measures to keep people safe at work, study or in university or college accommodation
  • Health and welfare measures

The University’s measures are informed by an expert advisory group made of Oxford clinical academics as well as government guidance. We will continually improve and update these measures as we seek to take account of the concerns of academic and non-academic staff and of students, as well as changing national guidelines. 

The principles which will guide the preparation of detailed plans are three-fold:

1. Testing service

The University, in collaboration with the NHS, is implementing an in-house COVID-19 testing service to supplement NHS provision, so that all academic and non-academic staff and students of the University and the colleges can have easy access to a COVID-19 test if they think they have symptoms. This will provide assurance to them, and their families, that any new case of COVID-19 at the University will be identified, and action taken to prevent transmission, at the earliest possible moment. This service will also help protect our local community, and ensure that the University does not put an extra burden on our local NHS facilities as we welcome students and staff back to the University from the autumn. It will be operational by September, when students start returning to Oxford for the new academic year.

The key elements of the testing service are as follows:

  • The University will be establishing a central testing site in the city and one in Headington, with an online booking system.
  • The service will be open to all staff and students who are concerned that they may have symptoms of COVID-19.
  • The current test is a nose and throat swab to detect the presence of the virus. If testing technology improves, our testing service will adapt as necessary.
  • There will be a rapid turnaround of tests, with results available within 24 hours.
  • In the event of a positive result, Public Health England (PHE) will maintain responsibility for tracing. As part of our service, however, we will interview those being tested to ensure that an up-to-date list of possible contacts is immediately available in the event of a positive test, and will take rapid proactive action, in collaboration with PHE and the local authority, to minimise the risk of transmission.
  • Privacy is extremely important and the testing service will be set up to ensure the security of personal medical data. We will explore asking those using the service to voluntarily consent to having their details disclosed for the purposes of supporting PHE’s contact tracing efforts.

2. Protective measures

Our testing service will form part of a comprehensive health regime that will operate across University and college buildings and facilities, in which ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all staff and students is paramount. Protective measures will be in place as buildings re-open, and include:

  • Our cleaning regimes will be significantly enhanced, with regular cleaning of contact points such as door handles, banisters and bathrooms.
  • Additional facilities will be in place for everyone to maintain good hygiene such as through regular hand washing with soap and water or hand sanitiser.
  • Our spaces – both research and teaching, as well as social spaces, communal areas and areas open to the public – will be adapted to ensure social distancing and appropriate ventilation are maintained in accordance with government and scientific advice. We will be timetabling activities and staggering timings to ensure social distancing measures are as effective as possible. The adaptations to our spaces, supported by clear signage and markings, will enable all to safely enter, move through, work in and exit buildings and facilities.
  • University libraries will operate social distancing through capacity limits, with spacing of reader seats, one-way systems, and enhanced hygiene measures, as well as a ‘seat-finder’ app so that reading room spaces can be easily identified.
  • For any activities where maintaining social distancing at all times is more difficult (eg some laboratory work and some forms of practical teaching), we will adopt further measures such as the use of further hygiene measures, perspex screens and barriers.
  • From the start of the new academic year, face coverings will be required during face-to-face teaching and in indoor shared spaces, with exceptions for both individuals and settings where they are not appropriate (for example on grounds of disability). Details on how this will operate will be consulted on.

3. Support for health and wellbeing

We are committed to setting out clear guidance for students and staff about what is expected of them to protect themselves and others, and what they can expect from the University.  A codified set of guidelines is under development to make clear the expectations and behaviours we will ask of all our students.

The University and colleges will support all those who work and study here in adhering to government guidance, and in taking the steps necessary to maintain their health and wellbeing. The principles which will inform this process are:

  • Planning for the grouping of students in ‘households’ in college accommodation where they share high-contact facilities such as bathrooms or kitchens.
  • Supporting students in college accommodation who are required to self-isolate. Students living in private accommodation will self-isolate at that accommodation, but some welfare support will be available where appropriate.
  • Supporting international students in the event they have to self-isolate upon arrival in the UK.
  • Ensuring online teaching is available for students who are unable to take part in face-to-face teaching.
  • Supporting staff: We are aware that there could be a range of health vulnerabilities and concerns about travelling and returning to work, or ongoing caring or home-schooling responsibilities.  Any member of staff who has concerns about the risks will have the option of a discussion with their Head of Department, manager or relevant College senior staff member about their particular circumstances and concerns. Academic staff in colleges should raise these issues with their Senior Tutor or Head of House. Risk mitigations will include the possibility of teaching remotely for academics.
  • Providing additional support for those working from home for extended periods of time, including guidance to assist staff on home working furniture and set-ups, advice for staff and managers on how to work effectively as part of a remote team, and additional wellbeing resources.
  • Recognising the pressures and increased workload that are affecting many staff across the University, and exploring options for addressing those issues.

Health and wellbeing

Where can I find the latest health advice about coronavirus?

Please visit the NHS website for full information about coronavirus, including answers to common questions. Additional information is also available on the University's coronavirus advice page.

I need to self-isolate because I have coronavirus symptoms or I share a house with someone who has symptoms. What do I do now?

If you have coronavirus symptoms and are living in college accommodation, you should contact your college welfare lead and they will provide further advice about what to do. If your symptoms or circumstances are affecting your ability to study, you should inform your college or department as soon as possible. 

If you live in University graduate accommodation and need to self-isolate you should inform both your college welfare lead and the Graduate Accommodation Office.

If you share a house with someone self-isolating from coronavirus symptoms, you should also self-isolate.

PHE has published guidance on self-isolating at home, including in shared accommodation.  

Where can I find the wider guidance about coronavirus?

The situation is evolving rapidly. You should visit and regularly check the following websites for the latest updates and guidance:

What should I do if I feel anxious about coronavirus?

It is normal to feel sad, stressed, confused, scared or angry during a crisis. There are some great resources out there to help support your mental health, whether you are in Oxford or away, and especially when self-isolating. Student Minds has a list of advice and tips on their website and further links. The Counselling Service website has a range of supportive resources and information about managing mental health conditions. You can still access Student Welfare and Support Services, although our physical building is closed, all services are offering online telephone appointments.

If you have an existing mental health condition, then we know this may be a particularly challenging time. You can find public health advice for supporting your mental health on the PHE website. A 24/7 NHS mental health helpline has also recently been launched to take pressure off 111 for mental health advice in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

In addition, students can now also access free online support 24/7 through Big White Wall. Big White Wall is a free service giving you access to a global welfare community. To join, simply visit the official website and Register under "I'm from a university or college" with your Oxford e-mail address.

Is there any hardship funding I can apply for due to the effects of coronavirus?

Faculties, Departments, Colleges, and central services have some hardship funding that may be able to help you. The Emergency Assistance Fund, launched for Trinity term, provided short-term assistance for on-course, matriculated students whose finances have been negatively affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. Emergency Assistance grants of between £200 and £1,000 were available. The scheme closed to new applications on 12 June 2020.

A new hardship scheme is currently being developed for students whose finances have been impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak over a longer time period, and this will be launched for the 2020/21 academic year. Further information will be included on this webpage and on the dedicated coronavirus hardship funding webpage in due course. Students who are in urgent financial difficulty during the Long Vacation are advised to contact their college hardship officer for further guidance.

A range of financial information, including details of schemes that can provide help for other reasons, is available on the University's Fees & Funding webpages.

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