Oxford prepares for the safe return of students

Oxford’s two universities are working closely with local government and NHS partners on a range of measures to keep students, staff and residents safe as teaching and studying resumes later this month.

Oxford Brookes University and Oxford University are working alongside Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council and the NHS to make sure arrangements are in place for a safe start to the new academic year – and that students are encouraged to protect themselves and others as Oxfordshire continues to seek to #stopthespread.

The measures include boosting testing capacity– Oxford University is providing its own service, and Oxford Brookes has been working with Oxfordshire County Council to establish an on-site Coronavirus testing facility which is now available via appointment for the local community, as well as Oxford Brookes students and staff.

There will also be additional local contact tracing systems at both universities to track attendance in key areas across campuses. Local outbreak control plans are in place, which have been tested through joint exercises, and all students are being provided with advice and guidance about how to protect themselves and others. Both universities have also published new documents setting out their clear expectations for student behaviour during the ongoing pandemic, , both on and off campus.

Large-scale lectures will not be delivered face-to-face, with the universities instead delivering online learning. Only small scale and individual teaching will take place on campuses. Extensive risk assessments have been carried out in line with Health and Safety Executive guidance.

These initiatives are designed to help keep the virus under control as Oxford looks towards the new university year.

An online event is being organised by Oxford City Council for residents to hear from both universities, the City and County Councils and Thames Valley Police about arrangements for the safe return of students. The event is planned for later this month and will also be an opportunity for residents to put questions to these organisations. More details will be published nearer the time.

Ansaf Azhar, Director of Public Health at Oxfordshire County Council, said:

“It’s important to remember that the virus is as active as ever, so we’ve implemented a range of measures designed to protect incoming students and Oxford residents.

“While it’s easy for students to get carried away amid all the excitement of a new university year, it’s vitally important they remember that the virus still presents a risk and take preventative action and get tested promptly if they show symptoms.

“We’re encouraging students and residents alike to follow those simple measures that help keep us all safe – keep your distance, wash your hands, wear a face covering. If we all do these things, we will avoid having to introduce measures that we’ve seen elsewhere in England.”

Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council, said:

“Students are a vital part of our city’s life and our economy, and I would like to warmly welcome them back to Oxford. Our two universities have put in place measures to minimise the risk from the virus to students, university staff and the wider Oxford population. We all, students and permanent residents, need to abide by the health guidelines to keep Oxford’s communities safe.

“Oxford is a beautiful city and we are proud that each year we get to welcome students from around the world who will call Oxford their new home. I would encourage students arriving in our city to help protect their new community and themselves, by following the guidance around stopping the spread of COVID-19.”

Professor Alistair Fitt, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University said:

“The safety of the community is paramount in our preparations for the new academic year. Over the summer we have been working tirelessly to put in place a large number of precautions, in line with government and public health advice, to ensure the safe return of our staff and students. This includes a University test and trace system, enhanced cleaning, social distancing measures and a Covid testing facility at our Headington Campus.

“We know that safety measures on campus will only be effective if they are accompanied by responsible behaviour from our students within the wider community. We have been in regular contact with our new and returning students over the summer and will continue to share videos and other information on acceptable behaviour which complies with the latest government guidance.

“We are immensely proud of our strong community links and will continue to work closely with local councils to ensure the safety of all, whilst providing a rich educational experience for our students.”

Jan Royall, joint head of Oxford University's Michaelmas Coordination Group together with Karen O'Brien, said:

"Oxford University and its colleges look forward to welcoming all new and continuing students for Michaelmas term. The health and safety of all who study and work here, and the wider community in Oxford, is our highest priority, and we have been making adjustments to the way we live and work. All students whether they live in colleges or private accommodation, will be required to sign a Student Responsibility Agreement which commits them to following University and local public health guidelines in order to protect our fellow citizens in the City as well as the University and colleges. In order to reinforce messages to our community a health campaign was launched this week.

"The University is putting in place additional safety measures ahead of Michaelmas Term, including a testing service, face coverings, social distancing, careful planning of building access, hand and surface sanitation, ventilation, use of Perspex screens and other measures. Additionally, the University's COVID-19: Early Alert Service (EAS) is also working in conjunction with local public health experts to ensure an effective internal strategy to contain outbreaks."

More information

Both universities have set up coronavirus web pages that include information for residents as well as students and staff

Oxford University: https://www.ox.ac.uk/coronavirus

Oxford Brookes University: https://www.brookes.ac.uk/alerts/coronavirus/