Supporting our students, now and in the future

In preparing for the year ahead, I have been reflecting on the incredible achievements of our teaching and support staff in supporting our students over the last 18 months. I would like to thank you all once again for your collective efforts during such a tumultuous period. I hope you managed to get a proper break over the summer and have been able both to recharge and get ready for Michaelmas term.

Like many colleagues, I'm personally looking forward to returning to in-person teaching this term. While there is naturally a spectrum of views and a certain amount of trepidation, I’m nevertheless optimistic that the academic year ahead will bring us better things than the last.

In-person teaching and support

We’ll start the new academic year with very few restrictions to our ability to provide in-person teaching. Students have told us time and again how much they value this type of learning, in terms of both their education and wider student experience, and I know many academics also welcome the chance to get back to a more normal teaching experience. Students were hugely appreciative of all we did last year; I hope that colleagues will do everything they can to provide in-person teaching while the circumstances allow this term, while retaining the online content which is valued by students as inclusive.

Given the difficulties they have experienced, it is likely that students will continue to need higher levels of welfare and pastoral support this term. The University’s welfare services will offer both in-person and online appointments, our COVID student funding programmes will continue, and our Academic Transition Package will benefit incoming students. I'm sure that colleagues across the University and colleges will also do everything they can to support students in their day-to-day interactions with them. This term we welcome our new Student Welfare Director, Rotimi Akinsete, and I am looking forward to working with him to help us build on our already excellent welfare provision.

Looking forward

As the academic year goes on, it is of course possible that the government could re-impose some restrictions. We hope these will be more modest than last year, and that, at the very least, tutorials and lab classes will be able to remain in person. We are, by now, used to dealing with setbacks outside our control, and all our contingency planning efforts should leave us well placed to respond effectively. I am sure we will continue to provide the highest standard of education, regardless of how COVID-19 impacts us.

Looking further forward, I am aware of a strong desire within the University community to build on what has gone well during the pandemic, while retaining the unique aspects of an Oxford education. As such, we will be responding to staff and student feedback to ensure we can continue to provide a range of assessment types in the years ahead, while our Digital Education Strategy Review will help us to deliver the very best teaching and learning long into the future. I also hope we will build on the spirit of collaboration that has helped support a holistic approach to the whole student experience from all parts of the collegiate University.

We remain in uncharted times, but I remain hopeful for a positive term ahead, and that we will emerge from the pandemic with an Oxford experience that is even better for both students and staff.