Oxford’s universities plan for the safe return of students in the new year

Published: Thursday, 10th December 2020

Oxford’s two universities have developed plans to help students safely arrive back in the city for the start of the spring term, 2021.

Students at Oxford and Oxford Brookes universities will gradually arrive back in a staggered return over several weeks in January and February.  Every student will be offered the chance to take free and fast tests for COVID-19 – minimising the risk of transmission to other students, staff and the wider community.

The plans are in line with Government guidance published in early December, which advised universities to arrange a phased return of students in the new year, and to put testing facilities in place for when they are back on campus.  The plans build on the extensive arrangements made by both universities to test thousands of students before they travel home for Christmas.

Many students at both the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University will initially be taught online when teaching resumes in the new year, with some taking part in healthcare placements and practical courses starting in-person.

Teaching at Oxford University will begin between Monday 4 and Monday 25 January, depending on students’ course. All students will be offered two tests before starting in-person teaching, and a third a week later. Arrival times for students living in college accommodation will be staggered, to reduce the numbers of students arriving on specific days. Students will be offered a mix of in-person teaching and online support, as was the case in Michaelmas (autumn) term.

Oxford Brookes University will stagger the return of its students across a five-week period from 4 January. The approach means students will return to campuses and halls of residence in three phases, starting with those on placements.  Later in January, students on programmes that require some face-to-face teaching to meet learning outcomes, such as essential lab or studio time, will return. From 1 February Oxford Brookes students will continue their studies with a blend of online and face-to-face teaching, resuming the approach taken in the first part of the academic year.

“The University of Oxford is committed to protecting the community from COVID-19. In the Autumn term, our extensive safety measures as well as our Testing for COVID-19: Early Alert Service helped to minimise transmission rates. These new arrangements, including the additional tests at the start of term, will increase our ability to contain the virus – and will play an important role in keeping our staff, students and the wider community safe.”

Martin Williams, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Education at the University of Oxford

“A huge effort has gone into planning a carefully managed return for our students in the new year.  Staggering their return to Oxford and making rapid testing available to all students will help to minimise risk and keep all our communities safe.”

Professor Anne-Marie Kilday, Pro Vice-Chancellor Student and Staff Experience at Oxford Brookes University

The testing at both universities will take the form of ‘lateral flow tests’, which are also being offered to students before they leave at the end of the term.  The technology behind the tests has been extensively validated at Oxford University and in Public Health England laboratories.

Support will be available to any students who need to remain in Oxford over Christmas, and those, including international students, who may need to return to student accommodation and campuses before in-person teaching resumes. Students returning to university from a Tier 3 (‘very high’) area may also need to take a rapid (Lateral Flow) test prior to travelling back to their University.

The universities continue to work closely with local partners such as the University of Oxford, councils and NHS partners in order to coordinate the COVID-19 response across the city.

“I’m pleased that both of our universities in Oxford continue to work effectively together and alongside health bodies and the City and County Councils to minimise COVID-19 cases among students.

"A coordinated staggered return, linked to wide-scale testing on students’ arrival back in Oxford will help contain cases, and have a welcome additional effect of limiting traffic impacts. For those students staying in Oxford this Christmas, I know both universities have been making arrangements to look after you. I hope you all have a peaceful Christmas and New Year. Stay safe."

Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council

“Students are an important part of our community in Oxford and we look forward to welcoming them back in January. Our public health team have been working closely with both universities to ensure that processes are in place to reduce the risk of transmission and keep our communities safe, and I would like to pay tribute to all the work involved. It is by working together in this way that we can respond to COVID-19 and help stop the spread in Oxfordshire.”

Councillor Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council