Coronavirus FAQs

Introduction

As you’ll be aware, the University is planning to be open to students for the 2020/21 academic year. The information on this page provides an overview of the College’s preparations for the autumn (Michaelmas) term. As we approach the start of the academic year, more detailed updates are being circulated to students by email. These are being placed on the College’s intranet so that students are able to find and reference them easily.  The information provided here and on the intranet and should be read alongside the details published and updated regularly on the University’s website.

The College is following government and health and safety guidance and will continue to do so.

We hope that restrictions will ease over time and that it will be possible for most of our students to be with us in person. We are, however, mindful of the wide range of our students’ circumstances and are planning to ensure that provision can be adapted, for example so that those who are not able to be present in Oxford can also join us, even if not initially in person.

What steps is Merton taking to prepare for the arrival of students in the autumn?

The health and wellbeing of all our students and staff are our priority. As the colleges and University prepare to welcome undergraduates and postgraduates back into residence, a huge amount of work is being undertaken to ensure that our provision is appropriate for the present circumstances. Merton is very fortunate in having beautiful gardens with lots of outdoor space, large indoor areas (for example the Hall and Chapel) and extensive sports grounds that are a short walk from the College. Together, these give us considerable flexibility for options in the term ahead.

Preparations include the widespread installation of appropriate signage and hand sanitisers, introduction of one-way routes in the busier areas of the College, enhanced cleaning protocols, use of personal protective equipment where this is recommended as good practice, social distancing adjustments (e.g. to teaching and social spaces) and plans for continuing use of IT to provide us with flexibility in the ways in which students can interact with us. More detail is provided below about specific areas of provision.
 

Academic-related
Will my teaching be face-to-face?

The University is currently planning to be open from the start of the academic year and is aiming to continue to focus on face-to-face teaching for small groups as far as possible, with larger group activities and lectures being offered online (at least for the first term). Practical steps are being taken by the Colleges and University to put in place appropriate health and safety adjustments, for example revising room capacity to allow for social distancing and introducing new and enhanced cleaning protocols. It is currently expected that there may be some circumstances, for example for health-related reasons, which require teaching to be undertaken remotely, including for small group teaching.

While we are currently planning for the provision of face-to-face tutorial teaching for our undergraduates, the College may need to make changes to comply with government/local authority regulations, guidance from Public Health England, and/or our own health and safety advice to ensure the health and safety of tutors, staff and students.

Examples of measures the College may take in such circumstances include:

  • Providing teaching and/or assessment or other services wholly or partly online or via other remote or virtual means;
  • Moving the location of teaching and/or restricting student numbers permitted to attend any location at one time (e.g. limiting the numbers in libraries or at seminars);
  • Teaching outside of normal Monday to Friday working hours and/or outside Full Term;
  • Requiring students to comply with:
    • social distancing measures;
    • wearing of face-masks;
    • wearing personal protective equipment;
    • any other health and safety measures which the College deems necessary;
  • Staggering attendance by students so that for part of the term you are not allowed physically to attend College.
Will I be able to use Merton’s Library?

Merton’s Library has continued to support our students and academic staff throughout the course of the pandemic. While our undergraduates and graduates have been working remotely, this has principally been through facilitating access to online materials, the availability of which has expanded considerably. Merton Library staff are providing individual advice and assistance. The Library has also recently launched a click and collect service and is taking steps to modify provision of student work spaces to meet current social distancing guidance.

Will I have to wear a face covering/mask for college teaching?

The University has developed detailed guidance about the use of face coverings across all University and College buildings. This policy should be read and understood alongside the UK’s requirements to wear face coverings in certain circumstances (see the UK Government website for details).

The University’s face covering policy applies to all staff, students, visitors, contractors and members of the public, except for those who are exempt (e.g. on grounds of disability). Unless exempt, face coverings must be worn in all shared indoor spaces, including teaching rooms, communal areas, meeting rooms, and libraries.

We would advise students to bring face coverings/masks with them to provide flexibility in responding to relevant guidance. Face coverings can be cloth coverings that can be laundered after each use.

Use of face coverings are not a substitute for good hygiene, including regular hand washing, and other measures such as social distancing, enhanced cleaning regimes, and self-isolating if unwell.

Domestic/Accommodation
I am due to live in College for the 2020-21 academic year - when can I come back into residence?

The information below provides an update based on where students are currently living and what year of their studies they are in. Before coming back into residence, you should contact the Accommodation Office to confirm your arrival date, taking into account the information below.

Unfortunately, because of the likely complexity of managing self-isolation arrangements for some returners, we ask students to adhere to the arrival dates indicated below. A small number of special cases are covered in the guidance below, namely:

  1. Students with public examinations at the start of term
  2. Students with extended terms
  3. Students requiring additional support due to ill health or disability
  4. Students helping with freshers’ week
  5. Government and visa-related issues restricting travel

All students travelling to Oxford from outside the UK are asked to check the travel guidance regularly both in the country in which they are resident and the UK’s Government information about travel corridors. Please be aware that this information may change at short notice.

 

(a) Undergraduate students
Undergraduates Expected arrival date
1st Year undergraduates currently in the UK From Monday 5 October
1st year undergraduates currently outside of the UK International fresher undergraduates (including EU) may arrive between 20 September and 5:00pm on Monday 5 October to allow for a period of self-isolation, if needed. You must confirm your arrival date with the Accommodation Office as early as possible but at least 5 working days in advance of your proposed arrival date by emailing accommodation.admin@merton.ox.ac.uk. There are no forms to complete with regards to choosing your accommodation. The College has reserved a single room for you and you will be advised of its location upon arrival.
Returning undergraduates currently in the UK Sunday 4 October
Returning undergraduates currently outside of the UK International undergraduates (including EU) may arrive between Wednesday 9 September and Sunday 4 October to allow for a period of self-isolation, if needed. You must confirm your arrival date with the Accommodation Office as early as possible but at least 5 working days in advance of your proposed arrival date by emailing accommodation.admin@merton.ox.ac.uk.
(b) Graduate Students
Graduates Expected arrival date
1st Year graduates currently in the UK No later than 2 October. All arrivals before this date must be agreed with the accommodation office in advance by emailing accommodation.admin@merton.ox.ac.uk. Early arrival requests will be authorised only for course-related reasons (e.g. an earlier start date which the College should be notified about). Students will be charged for any nights of residence prior to 1 October.

 

1st year graduates currently outside of the UK International fresher graduates (including EU) may arrive between 17 September and 2 October, to allow for a period of self-isolation, if needed. Earlier arrival requests will be authorised only for course-related reasons (e.g. an earlier start date which the College should be notified about) and may take into account any periods of self-isolate. Students will be charged for any nights of residence prior to 1 October.
Returning graduates currently in the UK and outside of the UK No later than 2 October. If you have a room assigned to you through the ballot, please contact the Accommodation Office (accommodation.admin@merton.ox.ac.uk) to discuss arrival plans. These may take into account any periods of self-isolation, if needed.

 

(c) Special circumstances
(i) Public examinations at the start of, or before, Michaelmas Term

Students should plan to arrive back no sooner than one week before the date of the first public examination, if this is during 0th week or before. If you will be required to self-isolate on arrival, you may come back from Wednesday 9 September.

(ii) Extended terms

Undergraduate students with extended terms should plan to arrive back no sooner than the weekend before the formal date of the first day of the extended term. If you will be required to self-isolate on arrival, you may come back from Wednesday 9 September.

(iii) Students requiring additional support due to ill health or disability

If you would like to discuss the possibility of an early arrival relating to a disability or health condition, please contact the Academic Registrar.

(iv) Undergraduate Freshers’ week helpers

UK-based students who are being trained to be Peer Supporters may come back into residence from the weekend 26/27 September. Additional students helping with undergraduate freshers’ week may return over the weekend of 3/4 October. Any students assisting with freshers’ week who are coming back into residence from outside the UK and who are required to self-isolate on arrival may arrive back from Wednesday 9 September. All undergraduates in this group should contact accommodation.admin@merton.ox.ac.uk about your arrival times.

(v) Government and visa-related issues restricting travel

Cases falling into this category will be considered on an individual basis.  Students needing to discuss the specifics of their case should contact jane.gover@merton.ox.ac.uk (undergraduates) or julie.gerhardi@merton.ox.ac.uk (graduates).

I am likely to need to self-isolate as soon as I arrive – what I should I do?

The College will have arrangements in place to support students in self-isolation, including with the provision of food and regular contact from the welfare team. In planning for your return, you should consider the implications of being in your room for a two-week period and whether there are items that you wish to bring so that you have access to them during that time. This might include sufficient supplies of medication and toiletries, laundry liquid for handwashing clothes, your favourite snacks, books and other ways of passing the time. Ensuring that you have work to do and access to work-related materials will also help to give your days some structure. Please note that as things stand, it may be necessary for students to be placed in accommodation for self-isolation which may not be the room assigned for the full academic year.

If you are required to self-isolate this means:

  • Staying in your accommodation
  • Not leaving your room to go to another location in order to work
  • Not going to the shops (food and/or medicines should be delivered)
  • Not going to public or shared spaces
  • Not having visitors
  • Avoiding contact with people you live with as much as possible
  • Informing the college (by emailing covid-19@merton.ox.ac.uk) if you have any Covid symptoms (high temperature; new continuous cough, loss or change of your sense of smell or taste).

Some international students with family or friends in the UK may choose to self-isolate in another location before moving into college accommodation. If that is the case, the College will ask for a copy of travel documents confirming the date of arrival in the UK so that the College can be sure that the two-week period has been fulfilled before moving into Merton accommodation.
 

I’m traveling from outside the UK and flights are very difficult to get and/or are very expensive. What can I do?

The University has published information about residency requirements for Michaelmas Term for full-time students but is expecting most students to be in residence from the start of the 2020/21 academic year.  There are a small number of Covid-specific grounds on which students may seek exemption from the normal residency requirements, which state that undergraduates must live within 6 miles of Carfax and that postgraduates must live within 25 miles of Carfax. If you consider that you may have grounds to seek exemption, then please contact the Academic Registrar.

What will the College’s practices be for charging for rooms?

The information below clarifies the College’s plans for Michaelmas Term and for the 2020/21 academic year. Answers are provided for (a) undergraduates and (b) graduates, taking into account the different nature of rental agreements that these two groups have with the college.

Please direct any questions about charging or finance to the Bursary at bursary@merton.ox.ac.uk and any questions about process or dates to accommodation.admin@merton.ox.ac.uk.

Please also remember to adhere to Government guidance when considering whether to travel to or from College.

 

(a) Undergraduate Students

Information is provided below about charges for undergraduate accommodation. The College’s normal policy with regard to vacation residence will also continue to apply.

  • You will be billed as usual for accommodation as long as you are resident.
  • If, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, you are unable to arrive by the beginning of your accommodation licence period we will not charge you until you are able to take up residence. However, you must confirm you intend to take up accommodation as soon as it becomes possible by liaising with the Accommodation Office at accommodation.admin@merton.ox.ac.uk.
  • If you are required to leave due to the Covid-19 pandemic at any time, please notify the Accommodation Office (accommodation.admin@merton.ox.ac.uk), cc'ing the Bursary (bursary@merton.ox.ac.uk), via email. We will stop charging you from the date you leave.
  • When you are able to return to residence, please notify the Accommodation Office (accommodation.admin@merton.ox.ac.uk), cc'ing the Bursary (bursary@merton.ox.ac.uk), via email of the date you will return in advance of your return. You will then be billed monthly in arrears from the date of return at the daily rate relevant to your room up to the termly maximum.
  • You may leave your belongings in your room even if you are not in residence in term time only; however all valuables should be removed. Instructions will be given separately if absences are likely to cover any vacation periods.
  • You must hand in your keys and sign a departure card upon leaving the College otherwise you will continue to be charged for your room. An arrival card must also be completed when collecting the keys again.
(b) Graduate Students

Information is provided below for graduates renting College accommodation:

  • You will be billed as usual for accommodation as long as you are resident.
  • If, due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, you are unable to arrive by the beginning of your accommodation licence period we will not charge you until you are able to take up residence. However, you must pay any deposit required in advance and confirm you intend to take up accommodation as soon as it becomes possible by liaising with the Accommodation Office at accommodation.admin@merton.ox.ac.uk.
  • If you are required to leave due to the Covid-19 Pandemic at any time, please notify the Accommodation Office (accommodation.admin@merton.ox.ac.uk), cc'ing the Bursary (bursary@merton.ox.ac.uk), via email. We will stop charging you from the date you leave (that is, you need not provide 30 days’ notice).
  • When you are able to return to residence, please notify the Accommodation Office (accommodation.admin@merton.ox.ac.uk), cc'ing the Bursary (bursary@merton.ox.ac.uk), via email of the date you will return in advance of your return. You will then be billed monthly in arrears from the date of return at the rate of £20.81 per day up to a maximum of £6,243.00 up to 31 July (if you are a leaver or not entitled to the summer accommodation) or to 30 September (if summer accommodation is applied for and approved).
  • You may leave your belongings in your room even if you are not in residence; however all valuables should be removed. All belongings must be removed by 31 July at the latest in line with the period of the Accommodation Licence.
  • You must hand in your keys and sign a departure card upon leaving the College otherwise you will continue to be charged for your room. An arrival card must also be completed when collecting the keys again.
  • These changes do not affect the requirement of College accommodation that you must be a current Merton member to occupy the accommodation. If you cease to be a member of Merton you must vacate your accommodation at that date. (For example, those whose courses end on 30 June).
Will the college still be providing meals?

Yes. The kitchens have re-opened and work is being undertaken to offer meals in College in ways that are compliant with best practice. This includes consideration of how meals will be served and possible options for students to eat together. Plans also take into account any future easing of restrictions.

Some students will have access to shared kitchens in their households and will be provided with advice and guidance about how best to use shared areas safely.

Will I have to wear a face covering around College?

The University has developed detailed guidance about the use of face coverings across all University and College buildings. This policy should be read and understood alongside the UK’s requirements to wear face coverings in certain circumstances.

The University’s face covering policy applies to all staff, students, visitors, contractors and members of the public, except for those who are exempt (e.g. on grounds of disability). Unless exempt, face coverings must be worn in all shared indoor spaces, including teaching rooms, communal areas, meeting rooms, and libraries. There are limited specific exceptions where face coverings can be removed, including in single occupancy spaces (e.g. your room), when eating or drinking, in certain settings when protective screens are in place or when communicating with someone who uses lip reading.

Use of face coverings are not a substitute for good hygiene, including regular hand washing, and other measures such as social distancing, enhanced cleaning regimes, and self-isolating if unwell.

We would advise students to bring face coverings/masks with them to provide flexibility in responding to University and/or government guidance. Face coverings may be cloth coverings that can be laundered after each use.

I have heard that the households are going to be set up for the coming academic year – what does this mean?

All students will be in accommodation ‘households’. The purpose of having households is to minimise the number of students who would need to self-isolate in the event of a suspected case of Covid. Households:

  • Are the fundamental unit for living in.
  • Defined as all those people who share any or all of the same high-contact facilities in their living area (bathroom, toilet, kitchen). Examples: a floor of a staircase with a shared bathroom; an area of a house with a shared bathroom and kitchen; a group of en suite rooms with a shared kitchen; a self-contained flat.
  • Do not include the access routes to them (i.e. entrance halls, corridors etc.) but Colleges will need to consider carefully how to minimise the use of such areas and how to keep them clean (see Communal access and related considerations below).

Merton households will be of between 1 and 9 students. A household may be a single student if that individual is in an en suite room without kitchen access.

If a student in a household suspects they may have Covid symptoms, or tests positive, then all members of that household would be asked to self-isolate. Agreed protocols will ensure that students who may need to self-isolate as a household are advised and supported appropriately. If you are contacted by Test and Trace, your household does not need to self-isolate with you if you do not have symptoms. However, you should take extra care to follow the guidance on social distancing and handwashing and avoid contact with you at home.

You may meet students from other households in outdoor or communal spaces outside your household providing that you maintain 2m social distancing and follow other advised measures to reduce the risk of transmission, as appropriate.

Non-academic activities
Will non-academic activities be able to take place?

Yes. We are very conscious of the importance of social activities within the College community.  We are currently considering ways in which face-to-face activities might take place, delivered in ways that are compliant with social distancing requirements and other good practice. These would be supplemented by opportunities for students to meet and interact virtually. This range will ensure that any student, irrespective of their circumstances, can connect with others. Considerable experience has been gained over the last few months of the ways in which students can be brought together virtually and can be supported by the College. Our JCR, MCR and welfare team have been working hard to offer a range of online activities including yoga, book clubs, games and quiz nights, circuit training, and arts and craft sessions - we've even held a virtual College-wide ‘Bake Off’!

Merton’s sports facilities are already being used for individual exercise, tennis and squash. Punts and kayaks are also available, for use on the river, with appropriate health and safety guidance. The College is continuing to monitor government advice about sport, so that activities can be extended safely as soon as possible.

Merton’s Music Society will remain active, and is considering ways in which musical offerings and performances can continue in a safe way.

In the Chapel, services will follow their normal term-time pattern, adapted to comply with relevant advice, with music provided in accordance with guidelines and currently expected to be by our wonderful College Choir and Girl Choristers. Services will be live-streamed so that those who are not able to attend in person are able to participate.

Health and Welfare
What will happen if I need to self-isolate, for example because I am returning from a country that requires me to quarantine or I’m contacted by the UK’s Test and Trace service?

The College has in place agreed processes for supporting those in self-isolation.  Any student needing to self-isolate will have regular contact from our welfare team and help with provision of food and other essentials, if needed.

Students arriving from certain countries are currently required to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival into the UK. Details about countries exempt from this period of self-isolation are available on the UK Government website. It is not yet clear whether these arrangements will be in place at the start of term and, if so, which countries may be affected. You are advised to review the UK Government guidance on a regular basis as it may change at short notice. We will be writing again to offer-holders a little closer to the start of term to ask about travel plans and self-isolation needs.

What will happen if I’m unwell?

All Merton students should be registered with the College’s medical practice, Dr Leaver & Partners. Details of how to do this will be provided to new students before they arrive. Students requiring medical help for any reason can contact the medical practice, the College nurse, or NHS 111. The College’s welfare team is always available to advise on this.

The University is launching its own Covid testing service to ensure that any student or member of staff can be diagnosed rapidly. Students needing to self-isolate will receive the support of the college (see above).

What will happen if I need pastoral or welfare support?

The Colleges and University have excellent and extensive welfare provision. Within the College is a team of individuals who work to ensure that advice and support is available to any student on any welfare-related matter. All students have a nominated member of academic staff with overall responsibility for the oversight of their academic progress and wellbeing. For undergraduates, this role is fulfilled by the Director of Studies, while graduates each have a College Adviser. Merton also has student Welfare Reps and Peer supporters. All welfare provision can be accessed virtually if needed, though we are currently also planning on a resumption of face-to-face meetings.

College welfare structures sit alongside central provision offered by the University Counselling and Disability Advisory Services, which again can be accessed remotely, if necessary.

What will happen if there are cases of Covid-19 at Merton during the academic year?

The College and University have contingency plans to respond to a wide range of scenarios from a progressive easing of restrictions to the emergence of local cases. The experience gained over the course of last term has ensured that we have mechanisms in place to adapt rapidly to changing situations, if required.

Please be assured that the education, health and wellbeing of students is Merton’s priority for the year ahead. We are aware that the global situation has impacted our new and existing students in many different ways, but we hope that the coming academic year brings continuing easing of restrictions and a means of starting to return to a more normal way of life. Our preparations will continue to evolve and adapt in response to circumstances and any changes in government or public health advice. A further update will be provided later in the summer.