Reinstate Safety Nets for Oxford University Students

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A year into the Coronavirus pandemic, social inequalities have never been more apparent in our nation. Last year, Finalists had to deal with the shock of being in lockdown and having to do all of their exams remotely, but most of the teaching they had received had not been affected by the pandemic. The teaching offered to students bound to graduate in 2021, however, has been greatly impacted.

By the end of the year, finalists will likely have had minimal to a complete lack of in-person teaching for 3 terms, and even though we appreciate that instructors have to work much harder to teach via novel media, we hope you can understand how this has been incredibly disruptive and harmful for optimal exchanges. Home environments are likely to differ vastly, and this may make them more or less conducive for learning. While some students have had the option to return to university, this is impossible for those with caring responsibilities, those with medical conditions making it unsafe to return and those who need to shield vulnerable household members.

There has also been severely reduced access to resources such as reading materials and study spaces. Students depend on these for submissions and final exams, and they will have to rely almost exclusively on online resources this year. Online resources are good substitutes in some subjects, but there are several others where online resources are unfortunately insufficient. This is highly likely to affect the quality of work produced by students.

There are also subjects with a compulsory year abroad component. The experience attained during the year abroad is often crucial to succeeding in final exams. Current finalists had their year abroad severely disrupted for at least 6 months, making it impossible for many students to attain the benefits offered by this hallmark component of many courses. This loss cannot be replaced by any means, and it is unwise to think that this will not affect exams.

It is also worthy of note that our year will compete directly with the years below and above us in the job market. With last years cohort doing so well, in part due to the safety net provided, and next year’s cohort likely to perform similarly well due to a much less disrupted academic experience, particularly in their final year, our cohort runs the risk of performing underwhelmingly in comparison, due to the large amounts of disruption which we have faced to our learning.

Furthermore, universities need to acknowledge the toll this pandemic has had on finalists' mental health and this needs to be taken into account whilst marking exams. It is important to note that for some courses, the degree class is entirely dependent on the final exams. We hope that the University appreciates that for these students, basing the entire degree on exams taken under the heavy mental toll of social isolation required to keep fellow citizens safe is unfair and that a flexible approach for deciding safety nets is crucial.

We are therefore requesting fair safety nets to help bridge social inequalities whose effects have been exacerbated by this pandemic, and to compensate for the impact that the pandemic will have on Finalists' performance in exams.