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06th January 2021 Rector Professor Sir Rick Trainor

Exeter College, the national lockdown and Hilary Term: An update for students from Rector Trainor

A message from Rector Trainor to Exeter's students following the announcement of a national lockdown.

Dear Exeter Student

Exeter College, the National Lockdown, and Hilary Term

I’m writing to provide the College’s follow-up to the letter you received today, from the central University, concerning the implications for Oxford students of the national lockdown as announced by the Prime Minister on Monday evening.

I regret inflicting another letter on you so soon after my message of last weekend.  Even more, I regret the uncertainties and difficulties that the current national situation – which has altered substantially since Monday – has created for Exeter’s students.

A key point is that the national lockdown means that Hilary Term 2021 will be more like Trinity Term 2020 than like Michaelmas Term 2020.  For those of you who weren’t at Exeter last Trinity Term, the crucial aspects of that term, as of the one we are about to begin, were the absence of most students from Oxford and the need to be taught online.

To be sure, a minority of Exeter’s students are, in part, exempt from key aspects of the new severe restrictions associated with the lockdown.  In particular, postgraduate research students, who have had a separate letter from the University, are eligible to return to Oxford;  as a result, the rest of this letter is largely intended for Exeter’s undergraduates and taught postgraduates.  Also, in a very limited number of subject areas (relevant departments will write to the students affected), undergraduates and taught postgraduates are eligible to return for the start of term, and to receive in-person teaching, provided that they fulfil requirements regarding Covid testing on arrival.  In addition, international students who cannot alter their travel plans are allowed to return to Oxford with the timing that they arranged before the Christmas break.

However, for the large majority of Exeter’s students – including the vast majority of Exeter’s undergraduates – the restrictions now imposed by the Government and the University apply with regard to Hilary Term.  In summary, you must not return to Oxford if you are not already here.  The Government explicitly requires, as a matter of law, that such students should stay where they are (with possible exceptions for international students currently in the UK who wish to make one carefully planned journey home, in which case they should be in touch with the Academic Office).  This requirement will not be lifted until at least mid-February, and very possibly later.  So, for most Exeter students Hilary Term will be largely, very possibly entirely, spent outside Oxford.

What about residency requirements?

  • The University has suspended residency requirements for Hilary Term, so that issue will not arise.

What about rents for College accommodation?

  • With regard to the implications for student rents of the lockdown and the legal requirement to stay at home, during Hilary Term 2021 the College will not charge rent where either we or the law prevent(s) students from occupying accommodation for which they have contracted.  So, students who are not already in residence and do not or cannot return under one of the exemptions noted above and below, will not be charged rent for the period of absence.   Details of the period of absence will be kept under review pending developments.  Please also note that any student with financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic, whether they live in College accommodation or not, can apply for support from the College by email to the Academic Office (office@exeter.ox.ac.uk).

You will have read, in the University’s letter, that it is possible for individual students to apply, to their respective colleges, for permission to return to Oxford either on the grounds of the need for additional support (including support related to mental health issues) and/or on the grounds of the lack of appropriate study spaces or study facilities at home.  Under University instructions and in accord with the spirit as well as the letter of the law, and to keep staff and students safe, the College will have to apply relevant criteria strictly.  Further information about the process of making such applications will be provided as soon as possible;  no applications (except in cases of dire emergency) or journeys to Oxford should be made in the meantime.

Whether or not you are contemplating making such an application in due course, you should keep in mind that, in order to comply with the law and with University regulations, life in College will be considerably more austere in Hilary Term than it was even In Michaelmas Term.  Catering may be closed and, if it continues, will be reduced to take-away only.  Also, it may be necessary to consolidate all residential undergraduates on one site, with the consequence that some students would have to move from the room that they had in Michaelmas Term.  While remote services will be provided, the College Library has already been closed as a study space.  The MCR is closed, and the JCR is closed except for authorised access to the JCR kitchen.  Computer rooms are closed (although printing facilities will continue to be available).  The use of the Marquee is being reviewed, and it is probable that it will not be in place during the term.  Social contact will have to be strictly confined to households, albeit reorganisations of households in defined circumstances may be permitted with explicit College approval.  Students not already in Oxford who are living in private accommodation should keep in mind legal restrictions on travel and the fact that the College grounds will be shut to anyone not living here.

So far in this letter I have included at least as many cautionary as reassuring points:  this is appropriate, I think, in the constrained position in which the national situation is forcing the College and its members to operate for the foreseeable future.  However, before closing, I would like to stress the positive, i.e. all the things which Exeter’s Fellows, Lecturers, and staff and its JCR and MCR executives intend to do for Exeter students during Hilary Term.  For example, the Welfare Team will be available online to students throughout the lockdown.  Also, both the JCR and the MCR will be mounting lively programmes of online social events.  Our excellent choir will be broadcasting a series of online services.  The annual Subject Family Dinners (virtual this year, unfortunately!) will take place, as will a number of webinars available to students as well as to the Exeter community as a whole.  For students due to sit Collections (which are meant to help develop learning rather than in any negative way) during the next couple of weeks, please approach your tutors with any concerns.  The same approachability applies to any issues that individual students may have about the work of the forthcoming term more generally.  (For taught postgraduate students, primary reference should be made to your department, but your College Adviser and the Academic Dean may also be able to assist.)  In addition, there will be Zoom meetings – please look out for the invitations – to allow students to keep in touch with each other, to speak with college officers, and to discuss lockdown and more general college concerns.

My final topic concerns access to IT equipment.  In recognition of the challenges some students may face participating in a term very largely of remote teaching and assessment, the College wishes to be as helpful as reasonably possible in assisting students who lack the appropriate equipment to engage effectively with their studies.  Although under normal circumstances the College’s Academic Grants may not be used to purchase such equipment, during Hilary Term 2021 we will be expanding the purpose of such grants to help students to purchase some IT equipment such as laptops, scanners, printers etc.  Please note that these grants are not intended to be used to replace/upgrade existing functioning equipment, but they may be used to help purchase suitable equipment if you are currently lacking it.  Students may apply for a grant to cover up to 50% of the cost of any such item, to a maximum of £200 per student. Any grants awarded will be counted toward a student’s maximum allowance of Academic Grant across the lifetime of their course.  To make an application for such a grant please submit the normal Academic Grant form to the Academic Office by email www.exeter.ox.ac.uk/applicants/undergraduates/financial-support/, providing details of the equipment required and a link to the item(s) online.

I shall write to you again as soon as possible with additional relevant information as it becomes available to the College.

With thanks for your patience and forbearance, and with best wishes for the term

Rick
Rick Trainor
Rector

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