Contingency planning

Emergency response stages

The University remains committed to furthering its mission of teaching and research throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have worked to identify a number of ways the University and Colleges can operate as fully as possible, while keeping our staff and students safe.

These are intended to allow the collegiate University to remain operating as much as possible, while keeping our staff and students safe.

The University will operate at a stage that reflects the broader public health environment. Its planning phases are as follows:

Planning stage



Physical closure of the majority of University and College buildings. Parks and open spaces open to the public. Departments physically closed. Staff work remotely where possible. Only core support functions continue


No public access to the University (including museums), except the Botanic Gardens and Arboretum. On-site activity permitted where it cannot be undertaken remotely. On-site research is allowed and encouraged where it cannot be carried out remotely – and enabled by the availability of COVID-secure environment. Teaching and assessment should take place remotely for the majority of taught students. In-person teaching will be permitted from the start of term for those courses/subjects explicitly exempted by Government and in cases where the requirements of Professional, Statutory or Regulatory body accreditation demand it. Libraries will prioritise remote and zero-contact digital services.


University operates in line with social distancing restrictions with as full a student cohort as possible on site; teaching and assessment taking place with the optimum combination of in-person teaching and online learning; and the minimum possible reduction in research capacity. Some areas of the University open to public in line with social distancing restrictions.


Emphasis on in-person vs remote learning and assessment, and on-site working vs remote working.  Increased public access including to public spaces, colleges (including conference facilities), and non-teaching and education related events.


The University operates as usual

For information about the status of individual buildings, colleges and departments, please refer to local websites.

Alignment with Department for Education teaching tiers

On 10 September 2020, the Department for Education published guidance on Higher education: reopening buildings and campuses, stating that that in areas subject to local lockdown ‘four tiers of restrictions have been set out for education settings.’

The four teaching tiers map broadly onto the University’s BCP framework, as outlined in the table below. More detailed information about the mapping is also available (SSO required).

DofE teaching tier

University BCP framework

Tier 1

HE providers are expected to provide blended learning, with face-to-face tuition, following the provisions of this guidance, and public health guidance, including the appropriate use of face coverings.

BCP Stage 2

University is open for business, operating in line with social distancing restrictions. Teaching and assessment take place with the optimum combination of in-person teaching and online learning.

What it means for Oxford teaching:

Offer a mix of remote and in-person teaching eg  seminars, classes and labs in-person with alternatives to large groups/lectures online

Tier 2

HE providers should move to an increased level of online learning where possible. Providers should prioritise the continuation of face-to-face provision based on their own risk assessment 


Tier 3

Where stricter measures are needed, HE providers should increase the level of online learning to retain face to face provision for priority courses (eg clinical and medical courses), and in as limited number of situations as possible

BCP Stage 3

On-site activity permitted where it cannot be undertaken remotely. Teaching and assessment are undertaken remotely where possible, and gatherings of staff and students only permitted where essential for teaching and assessment to take place.  

What it means for Oxford teaching:

Prioritise in-person teaching where it is most beneficial eg labs in-person with seminars, classes and alternatives to larger groups/lectures online.


In-person teaching only where essential to achieve learning outcomes or to meet PSRB requirements eg lab-based PGT/PGR projects and medicine; fine art studio work; and music

Tier 4

We expect the majority of provision to be online, with buildings open for essential workers only

BCP Stage 4

Physical closure of majority of University and College buildings. Staff work remotely where possible. Only core support functions continue on site where remote operation is not possible.

What it means for Oxford teaching:

Fully remote teaching and assessment, with no or very limited exceptions

Further information

The University and colleges have outlined plans for resuming additional activities in line with the Government’s plans for gradually easing lockdown restrictions. 

A University roadmap summarises the loosening of restrictions in each of the four steps set out in the Government’s plan, and how the University’s different business continuity (BCP) phases align to them. Conference of Colleges has developed a corresponding plan for colleges.  The University roadmap is available for staff and students.

The University and Colleges are undertaking ongoing scenario planning to ensure we are prepared for a variety of situations that may occur. Please refer to the frequently asked questions below for further information.

Colleagues looking for more detailed information about contingency planning should refer to the following documents (SSO required):

Frequently asked questions

What happens if there is a local or national lockdown during Hilary term?

We are committed to maintaining the highest standards of education and research regardless of the impact of the ongoing pandemic. The University is remaining in close touch with public health authorities, and is prepared to adapt to moves between local COVID alert levels as necessary. If there is a more restrictive local or national lockdown, it is likely that the University as a whole will consider whether to change its emergency response phase. In these instances, physical access to buildings may be restricted – while education and research activities will continue wherever possible in remote form. The University have prepared a guidance note on contingency planning for remote teaching. If students are on-site in Oxford when a lockdown is imposed, they will be expected to abide by the local and national restrictions outlined by the UK Government. We will support students living in college and University accommodation throughout any lockdown periods.

How will decisions be taken about moving between different stages of the University’s business continuity framework?

Decisions about overall changes in the University’s overall business continuity status are taken by the University Silver emergency planning group. Decisions about particular departments moving between different stages of the business continuity framework are taken by the relevant division, on a recommendation by the department. Colleges will make decisions about their own business continuity statuses. This will likely be in consultation with Public Health England or local authorities in light of conditions at the time.

Will local lockdowns be considered in individual colleges and departments?

We will work with Public Health England to put safeguards in place that will help to prevent lockdowns being required within individual departments and colleges. However, specific lockdowns may be considered in specific cases; and it is possible that measures short of a lockdown may be required (eg some activities moved online or rescheduled, or a change in local business continuity level implemented) in the event of staff or student absence due to restrictions elsewhere. Decision will be taken by the appropriate authority (see above for further details).

What will happen if students or staff are unable to attend classes and tutorials in-person at the start of Hilary term, or during term time?

Teaching and research will be conducted in-person when it is safe for both students and staff, and we expect to offer a significant amount of in-person teaching over the academic year. We are also working with our academics to make education accessible to all students – whether they are learning in-person or online. If individuals or small numbers of staff are unable to take part in in-person teaching and learning, departments and colleges will provide online support as appropriate. In the event that large numbers of staff or students are impacted, the University would implement its contingency plans to move to increased (or entirely) remote teaching until it is safe and viable for in-person teaching to resume. Depending on the situation, this might be implemented across the whole University, or in particular departments or colleges.

Will the University Testing Service be able to cope with demand?

The University is in a good position to cope with the demand for tests but, as our tests are currently analysed at the John Radcliffe Hospital, it is not immune to national pressures on the NHS. The University continues to evaluate various future options for better and wider testing of staff and students for COVID-19. We are constantly reviewing developments in government guidance, existing NHS and Public Health England facilities, local requirements and any new approved and appropriate tests as they become available.

How will the University ensure that measures introduced as a result of COVID-19 do not impact its education and research activities?

We have worked to identify a number of ways the University and Colleges can operate during the current pandemic. These are intended to allow the collegiate University to remain operating as much as possible, while keeping our staff and students safe. Further information can be found on the University status and response page and in the planning and protocols section.

How is the University working with local authorities and public health groups in relation managing its response to COVID-19 cases?

We have been working closely with local authorities, both direct, as well as through partnerships such as the Local Resilience Forum’s Children's Services & Education Working Group. We are also part of the Multi-Agency Operational Cell (MOAC) which is chaired by a local public health consultant, and which is developing the Oxfordshire Coronavirus Incident Management Plan for higher education settings. We have run preparation exercises with local agencies, and our contingency plans have been sent to the Oxfordshire Director of Public Health.

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