Oxford and Cambridge have seen snow and floods in recent weeks, but now the snowdrops are peeping out, and with the UK’s vaccination programme going forward apace, the Universities are looking forward to the Spring with renewed optimism. It will be a while before life gets back to ‘normal’ and maybe, as commentators the world over suggests, life post-Covid will never be the same.
Mostly, at present, it is Lab-based and practical students who are back in colleges, also some of those from abroad or those with limited home working facilities. Most work is being delivered online and Tutors have been doing sterling work to maintain academic work via Teams and Zoom and other platforms. There has been a big emphasis on afeguarding and on promoting mental health, with many sessions offered on welfare, hardship, wellbeing, yoga, exercise, and nutrition.
Students are to be allowed back from Spring, and It will be a blessing and relief when more direct face-to-face contact – a hallmark of the world-famous Oxbridge Tutorial system – is allowed. The intellectual and personal growth that comes from tutorials was one key feature that was so admired by our founder Lady ‘Vicky’ Noon, as she told me over tea one afternoon when she invited (and persuaded me) to join her board of trustees. She could see at first hand how much returning Pakistanis who had benefited from the Oxbridge College and Tutorial system benefitted and it became her ‘dream’ and mission to give this special opportunity to more bright Pakistani students. This led to the foundation of the VNEF.
Tutorials so beloved of tutors and students are of course expensive and time-intensive. Recently during a major education panel, Professor Louise Richardson, the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, was asked if the tutorial system would survive in the new Zoom age. Her answer was strong and to the point: “Of course”! As always, please do remember to fill out our survey if you have not already.
With All Good Wishes, Dr Paul Flather Chair, VNEF Fellow, Mansfield College, Oxford