Update from the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) | University of Oxford
University of Oxford
University of Oxford

Update from the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education)

As we approach the midpoint of Trinity term, I would like to share my appreciation for the way that so many of you have adapted to the difficult circumstances we find ourselves in. 

It is a testament to the adaptability and ingenuity of Oxford students how readily you have taken to different aspects of remote University life. From online socials and club meetups, to digital debates and elections, to the rapid move to online teaching and assessment; you have collectively ensured that student life at Oxford continues in its usual spirit despite the distance between us. 

This will serve us well as we enter the long process of returning to University life as we have known it in the past. 

Response to remote University life 

I have been particularly impressed with your response to remote learning and examinations – which is so new to many of us. More than 500 students have now taken open-book exams – with the vast majority of candidates reporting a very smooth experience. We have also hadaround 250 responses to the Oxford SU remote learning feedback form. Your feedback suggests that small group sessions are working well. You have also told us that you appreciate receiving materials in advance and continuing discussions online afterwards. Having advance access to lectures has also been positively received – as it helps you being able to pause and rewind to aid notetaking. 

Your feedback is being shared with colleagues across the University and is being actively used to feed into additional measures to help you learn remotely and stay connected with Oxford. Do please continue to share your views – both through the online form, or direct to your tutor if you have suggestions for how you would like to work personally. It really does make a difference. 

This is of course a difficult time for many of us and I would like to remind you that all University services continue to provide their offerings remotely throughout this this term. We have had a positive response from students accessing the Counselling Service, the Careers ServiceBodleian Libraries  and other services - which is very encouraging. 

Trinity term arrangements 

I am sure that many of you will have questions about the arrangements for Trinity term following the Government’s plans to gradually reduce lockdown measures. 

The most recent changes do not significantly alter the University’s ability to deliver face-to-face activities. As such, all teaching, learning and assessment for taught courses will be conducted remotely for the duration of Trinity term – even if you are still in residence.  

The Government has advised that if you are still living in University accommodation, you are now permitted to return to your family home – which means this is now an option for you. However, you are of course welcome to stay if that is your preference. 

If you have already left Oxford, you should not return until further notice. The only exception is if you are a clinical medical student – in which case you may travel back to Oxford to complete your placement as you are now classed as an essential worker. 

It is possible that some postgraduate research students who are currently living in Oxford may be able to return to labs and research facilities as and when they reopen later in Trinity term as part of the University’s plans for a phased return to onsite working.  Further information will follow from departments about this as and when any restrictions are lifted. Please be patient about this – I know many research students are eager to get back into the lab, but re-opening buildings and labs is a complex process and we are determined to ensure it is done safely. The current pilots of re-opening buildings do not yet involve any students.

 I also realise that many students are keen to get back into libraries, or at least to gain greater access to resources that aren’t currently available online – again, we are working to increase access as soon as we can. 

Plans for Michaelmas term

While Michaelmas term is several months away, I know that many of you will have a lot of questions about what the arrangements will be. 

I am pleased to be able to say that the University and colleges intend to be open to students at all levels for the 2020/21 academic year from the start of Michaelmas term.  

We are fully committed to delivering an outstanding academic experience to our students, to maintaining our focus on personalised teaching, and to the safety and wellbeing of our entire community.

For undergraduate and taught graduate courses the emphasis on small-group teaching by leading academics (for example, in undergraduate tutorials) is fundamental to an Oxford education and will continue to be a central part of our offering in the 2020/21 academic year. Similarly, research degrees will continue to be based on close personal supervision by renowned researchers.

Face-to-face teaching and research supervision will be complemented by high quality online activities where necessary, delivered by Oxford’s world-leading academic staff and drawing on the exceptionally rich resources available through our colleges, laboratories, libraries and collections.

Arrangements for teaching and /or research will, of course, be subject to conditions prevailing at the time and always with the health and safety of students and staff as the first priority. 

Planning and further information

I realise that you will have lots of detailed questions about next year. Of course, there is still a lot of uncertainty as to how the pandemic will evolve at a national level, and we are all having to work with that uncertainty. But I would like to reassure you that detailed planning is taking place , and that we will keep you informed and seek student input as this work progresses.  

Your college (for undergraduates) or department (for graduate students) will be in contact over the coming weeks and months, giving more information as it becomes available. They remain the best first point of contact for any queries you may have. And as ever, please do continue to review the student coronavirus advice pageon the Oxford Students website as it is still being updated with all the latest details. 

There is a lot to work through as we plan for the new academic year, with many different factors to take into account. However, despite the complexity I would like to reassure you that you that we are absolutely committed to supporting you as much as we can - and preserving Oxford’s unique educational experience for everyone. 

You have already demonstrated that coronavirus has not dampened Oxford’s spirit, or diminished its rich learning environment, and I believe this will hold us in good stead for the months ahead. Thank you once again for your resilience and adaptability - and I wish you the very best for the rest of the term.  

Martin Williams
Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education)