It has been found that over £170,000 worth of fines have been given out during the coronavirus pandemic, due to students breaking the safety guidelines. Oxford Brookes University has been flagged as the number one university to conjure up thousands of pounds worth of fines for their secretive student parties. These gatherings included household mixing and lack of safety precaution.
Why did these parties happen?
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, no clubs or pubs have been open for months. After speaking with various students from the university, it became apparent that these parties took place to make up for the loss of social interaction that would have taken place during freshers’ week in September.
When moving to university, the idea of making new friends can be extremely exciting but also daunting. The restrictions the government was forced to implicate meant that students were moving into new environments and not being allowed to socialise and meet new people. Some students claimed this tainted their opinion of joining university this year, as they were worried about the damage to their mental health if they were not allowed to leave their accommodations.
It has become extremely evident that the lack of freshers’ week took a toll on students who were struggling to settle into their new lives at university. One student stated it was “incredibly isolating” while another said, “it would have been impossible to make friends otherwise”.
What happened at the parties?
After speaking with some students who had begun their first year of university in September 2020, they explained the experience of attending these “lockdown parties/social gatherings”. When arriving at university, students would gather in each other’s flats or outside on the accommodation grounds. Wardens have access to each flat, so it was protocol to have someone on the lookout to prepare for their arrival if necessary. Unlocking and locking bedroom doors was a way to hide people if needed, as the wardens and police were not allowed to enter the rooms. Also, students in accommodations with their own bathrooms would cram others in there to ensure they were not found breaching the covid guidelines. Some students stated it then became routine for them to sit in someone’s room altogether after 11 pm, which is the time the accommodation wardens would begin patrolling, ready to catch out students breaking the rules.
At the beginning of the September 2020 semester, if the police turned up, it was only to scatter the students and force them to return to their flats. After they were forced to disburse the commotion multiple times, one of the university’s accommodations was forced to introduce a 10 pm curfew for the students of residence there. Additionally, you were only allowed outside in groups of no more than 6, and then after 10 pm, if you were smoking with 1 or 2 members of the same flat as you.
It was only after the Christmas period that the accommodation became more lenient with the rules due to the inconsistency of students returning to university with the January lockdown being introduced. The students have spoken to explain the consequences of being caught by either the accommodation wardens or the police: firstly, it began with a verbal warning, then a written one. An email was sent to the students who were in question stating, “This will serve as an official first written warning”, as well as a statement of wanting the students to acknowledge that they have breached their accommodation rules.
If the rules were broken again, a fine was implemented. First a £125 fine, then £250 for repeated disruption. In total, Oxford Brookes collected over 326 fines, adding up to over £18,900. This is much higher than other universities, such as St Andrews, which imposed a total of £13,240.
Whilst it is not permitted to breach the covid guidelines for personal gain, it must also be acknowledged that many students did so for their mental state. Oxford Brookes University has done all it can to prevent laws from being broken and will continue to enforce punishment where it is necessary. However, there is no control over students who decide to put themselves in vulnerable situations.