Colleges and accommodation | University of Oxford
Student accommodation
Student accommodation

Colleges and accommodation

Last updated: Monday 5 October 2020 

Updated government guidance on social activities

On 9 September the UK government published guidance on meeting with others safely. This included a limit of six people for most gatherings outside of a household – as well as new restrictions on some businesses from 22 September. Because colleges are COVID-ready workplaces, events for more than six people including induction events, communal dining and the use of bars and other social spaces can continue in Colleges so long as risk assessments are completed, social distancing and other government restrictions are adhered to. For information about student-led events and wider social activities, please refer to the Student Life page.

College and University accommodation

In colleges and University graduate accommodation, we are grouping students into ‘households', consisting of a group of people, typically between six and eight (but could be as small as one or as large as twelve), living in close proximity, for example on the same staircase, and/or with shared kitchen or bathroom facilities. You do not have to socially distance from people in your household. However, you will all need to self-isolate if one of you tests positive for COVID-19, and in some other circumstances. See the keeping you safe and well page for more information about testing and self-isolation. 

For more information about households, refer to the FAQs on this page– or download this PDF

Speak to your College for more information, of if you are living in University graduate accommodation, visit the Graduate Accommodation Office website.

Students looking for private accommodation should refer to the Oxford SU Living Out Guide.

College facilities


Your College will endeavour to offer as comprehensive a catering service as possible during Michaelmas term with an emphasis on supporting students with access to cooked meals in a socially-distanced setting. Staff will be well briefed, wear personal protective equipment when serving and there will be hand sanitising facilities available on entry to catering and communal areas. In most cases payments will be cashless.

Dining halls will generally be open with a reduced capacity to allow appropriate social distancing.  Service may be over a longer period of time than previously or with more sittings to avoid queuing. You may have to book a time to dine. Your College may also offer a takeaway option to eat in your room or other communal areas or away from the College.

If you are living in a Household, your College may allow you to dine together in Hall without the need for social distancing but that will depend on the spaces they have available and their ability to manage the groups. 

Bars and cafes

Whether bars are open or able to facilitate table service will depend on the nature of the space in your college, and the ability to maintain social distancing. Bar games such as pool, table football and air hockey are unlikely to be offered. Bars may be used as teaching or meeting spaces during the day. Social distancing will apply in all cases.

If your College has a café, you should expect capacity to be reduced and social distancing to be observed. As with bars, there may not be the capacity to allow you to eat in, if this is the case there will be a takeaway service. Menus and service styles may be different. 

Common rooms

Common Rooms (JCRs, MCRs etc) have reduced capacity which you will be asked to observe. They may well be used for other purposes during the day such as teaching and meetings. Games such as pool, as with bars, may not be available.  There may need to be controls on how to access the space to ensure social distancing is possible; rules or controls will vary from College to College depending on the nature of the rooms.

Arriving at your College

You will be given a standard college date to come up to Oxford. If you need to come earlier to self-isolate, please make sure you’ve agreed the arrangements with your College in advance.  If you have exams scheduled before the start of term, your College will accommodate you. Please make sure you agree arrangements like arrival and departure dates with them.

For information about travelling to Oxford, go to the travel & visas page.

Late arrivals

If you think you will arrive later than the standard date (for example because of difficulties obtaining a flight or a visa) please contact your College as soon as possible to let them know.

College or University managed rooms will be held over for as long as possible in the case of travel or visa delays but strictly on condition that you have been in contact with the College’s Accommodation Manager and agreed the delay.  Charges will not be waived.

Supporting students self-isolating

We will support you if you are required to self-isolate; either if you are an international student needing to self-isolate when you arrive in the UK, or during term time for other reasons. 

If you need to self-isolate in either college or University graduate accommodation, you should expect to be as self-sufficient as you can, but if you can't help yourself because you are too ill or you don't have access to a kitchen, your college will help you with food and medical support.

You and the students living with you in your household will be able to access the University’s testing service. Refer to the keeping you safe and well page for more information about testing and self-isolation. 

If you are in private accommodation and need to self-isolate, staff in your College will stay in touch with you and can help support you and any other college students in your household if necessary. We advise you to keep 14 days’ worth of food in the house in case you have to self- isolate, including easy to prepare items.

Oxford SU has produced a series of tips and tricks for students in self-isolation and further help and support is available from this guide and a series of blogs and podcasts that the University Counselling Service has produced, to help with coping with life during the pandemic.

While you are self-isolating, your tutor, course convenor or supervisor will be able to facilitate the continuation of your teaching or research remotely, where practicable, and if you feel fit enough to do so.

Colleges and accommodation FAQs

A selection of FAQs for all students about colleges and accommodation. For more detailed information, please see the FAQs section of this site.

Are households larger than six people still allowed, and can we socialise together?

Yes. Households of more than six people are specifically permitted under Government guidelines, and you can still socialise together. However, when attending events outside University and College premises, we encourage you to travel in pairs through the city rather than as a whole household.  This is because when people walk or stand in larger groups, it can be difficult for others to pass whilst maintaining social distance, and may be intimidating for vulnerable members of the community.

What support is available for students who will need to self-isolate in college on arrival in the UK?

Colleges will support all students who are required to self-isolate. Provision will vary by college and students will be accommodated either into temporary small household groups, or singular ensuite rooms with meals provided based on college availability. Please speak to the Accommodation Manager in your college for specific information.

Will I be able to stay in college accommodation during the vacations?

We do not yet know what the situation will be at Christmas, but we will continue to monitor and advise as appropriate, based on Government policy. If you do need to stay on in college accommodation for COVID-19 related reasons in the Christmas or Easter vacations after the end of the standard term your College will assist you. You will need to arrange that in advance and systems for doing so will vary from College to College but all Colleges will be supportive and make sure you have somewhere to stay.  Charges will apply for accommodation arranged for the vacation. If you need to self- isolate during such a stay, your College will support you.

Will students be grouped into ‘bubbles’ within their departments or subject areas?

No this is not something that we are doing. Students will instead be grouped into households within colleges and University accommodation and will be expected to follow distancing rules in their departments.

What is a College "household"?

A college household is defined as a group of people, typically between six and eight (but could be as small as one or as large as twelve), who live in close proximity, for example on the same staircase, and/or with shared kitchen or bathroom facilities; a group of en-suite rooms with a shared kitchen; or a self-contained flat.

A household of one person means that the individual does not share a bathroom, toilet or kitchen with anyone else.  If the student has an en-suite room, this could be treated as a household of one person. However, colleges may choose to group en-suite rooms into a larger household.

Your college will be able to explain more to you about how they have grouped their rooms into households.

Households do not include the access routes to them (for example, entrance halls and corridors.)

Is a ‘college household’ the same as a regular household?

Most students will now be used to the idea of living in a household where you do not have to practice social distancing. There are some important differences between your college household and what you may be used to at home:

1) College accommodation-based “households” cannot support any merging of households or forming ‘support bubbles’ with individuals who live alone. This is because the higher number of individuals in college households would create a greater risk of infection transmission if every household had connections beyond their own.

2) Although some college buildings may have the space to receive socially distanced visitors, most colleges are not permitting outside visitors to college households, for the reasons outlined above. Check with your individual college for rules about visits within households and to college more generally.

Do I have to spend all my time with the people in my household?

No. Students can eat, socialise and learn with others outside their household – but with social distancing.  Social distancing will be in accordance with current University and Government guidance.

Within your household, members are free to gather, socialise within their college, if they choose. Outside of their college, members should act as individuals and practise social distancing. This will help to reduce any concerns that the local community may have upon encountering groups of up to eight students.

What if there are issues between students in a household?

Colleges are experienced in supporting students with concerns relating to their accommodation. This support will continue and extend to manage any problems that might arise due to student household arrangements. In extreme circumstances, it may be possible to move students to alternative accommodation within their college, however this will be at the discretion of individual colleges and an assessment of safety and local capacity. Students are encouraged to discuss any concerns with their college welfare officer in the first instance.

What if I want to change my household? 

We appreciate that while you are permitted to socialise outside of your household (in accordance with government and University guidelines), there may be circumstances under which changing household groups would be beneficial. Unless under exceptional circumstances (see ‘what if there are issues between students in a household), this change would likely take place at the end of term and would be at the discretion of your college.

What is the point of a household?

A household is a way to control the risk of infection if someone contracts COVID-19.  It means that you would only share close proximity, bathrooms or kitchens with a restricted and controlled group of people, and there are measures in place to alert you if someone in that group tests positive for COVID-19. You do not have to socially distance from people in your household, but if one of you has to self-isolate, that will apply to all. 

How does self-isolating work in a household?

If any member of a household has symptoms of COVID-19, then all members of the household must self-isolate in line with NHS and government guidance. until the person with symptoms has had a test and received their results.

If the result is positive, the whole household must continue to self-isolate (go to the NHS website to find out how long to self-isolate for) in case any members are also incubating the virus.

If one member of a household is identified as being a close contact of a confirmed case (e.g. they are contacted by Test and Trace), but is asymptomatic, then only that member needs to self-isolate, and should socially distance themselves from other household members. If they go on to develop symptoms, then at that point the whole household needs to self-isolate.

Can individual students join with another household?

In most cases, members outside of your immediate household, even within your own college, should not visit your households’ rooms or shared facilities. Each college will confirm whether external visitors are permitted within college grounds outdoors or in communal areas.

Students living on their own, in a one-person household, for example in en-suite accommodation with no shared kitchen or bathroom, may wish to join with another adjacent household. Students in this position should check with their college if this can be allowed in their circumstances.

Is it possible to visit other colleges?

Colleges may operate social distancing and other measures to allow students and others to access them in accordance with health advice. It may be possible to visit the communal areas of other Colleges but some social distancing measures and other restrictions will be in place for visitors to help protect all of Oxford's communities. Some Colleges may exclude visits for social purposes.

What support is available to me if I am living out?

College welfare support extends to all students within that college, regardless of where they live. Students will be supplied with important contact information from their college and staff will stay in touch with students living in private rented accommodation, especially with students who are unwell or self-isolating. Students in private accommodation and students in college accommodation are each considered to be in separate and distinct household groups. Separate household groups cannot merge because our populations are too high and locations densely populated. 

What happens if there is another lockdown and I need to return home? Will I be able to terminate my accommodation contract?

All the standard notice periods, deposit rules and termination arrangements usually included in your College accommodation contract will apply.  These details vary.  You will be able to change your mind but there may be notice periods; refunds of deposits or rent are not guaranteed.  Your College or accommodation provider will be able to give you more precise details of their own requirements.

Colleges will manage their accommodation and services using reasonable endeavours but following local and national guidance.  Managing safe and secure accommodation is not straightforward: changes to service levels due to outbreaks or lockdowns will not be reflected in changes in charges.

Was this page useful?*