For student across Oxford, this Freshers week has been one to remember, just not for the usual reasons like non-stop partying and 9am lectures on a hangover. Both Oxford University and Oxford Brookes have had to take drastic measures to prevent widespread COVID outbreaks amongst students, but cases are still on the rise in the city. Currently, universities are holding large-scale lectures online but face-to-face seminars in person. Students are concerned about the possibility of all teaching being moved online; learning and asking questions is a lot more difficult when you are stuck behind a computer screen. So, here’s what it’s really like to go to Oxford as a student during COVID-19.
Your first day at the University of Oxford should be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, full of traditional inductions and getting to know the historic campus. However, the usual ‘matriculation’ induction ceremony, which would usually be held in the Sheldonian Theatre, is now an online event. Oxford is also famous for its large communal dining halls, fortunately for students these are still open, albeit with plastic screens up between seating areas and reduced capacity. Students are also being asked to sign a COVID-19 Student Responsibility Agreement, a document outlining Government and UK COVID guidelines/rules to help prevent an outbreak. Punishments such as suspension and exclusion are in place for the most serious breaches of this agreement.
At Oxford Brookes University, life is just as strange. The term started with a virtual fresher’s week and the university hired hundreds of Campus Monitors to patrol the campus to ensure that social distancing/face covering rules were being adhered to. However, Brookes soon gained some negative press with reports of mass gatherings being held at Cheney Student Village and, at the time of writing, there are 100 cases amongst Brookes students. Every individual seating area and desk at Brookes as a unique QR code allowing students to check in for track and trace purposes and the buildings are one-way systems with a vast reduction in eating areas. The university has also made free sunflower lanyards available to students who are exempt from wearing face coverings.
Having a social life is a crucial part of university life, but it’s no surprise that this is another part of university that has been practically wiped out by the virus. There are no more late nights at the pub, and students can barely even remember what a nightclub looks like. Both universities are taking a similar stance to social events by telling students to obey government guidelines and stick in their household groups where possible. Societies are continuing either socially distanced or virtually and sports clubs/outdoor activities can carry on providing they make themselves COVID safe. Both universities have seen all league sports matches against other uni’s cancelled for the foreseeable future.
After the sudden shut-down of uni’s across the country in March, a lot of students in Oxford felt alone whilst the universities adjusted. Brookes students got left without any teaching for two weeks which led to a two-week extension on all assignments. The summer holidays gave everyone time to adjust to the ‘new normal’ and, whilst face-to-face teaching continues, seminars feel relatively the same except all you see is masks instead of your classmates faces. The main impact is, of course, the student’s social lives. If freshers are stuck in a hall’s flat with people they don’t get along with, there are few chances to go out and make some friends who aren’t in the virtual world. The country needs to be more sympathetic to students as, like the rest of the world, it is mentally tough for students being away from home and many don’t have a choice as to who is in their household bubble.