SCRAPPING face-to-face lectures, campus Covid testing, and 'student responsibility agreements' are some of the ways in which Oxford's universities are preparing for the return to learning.

The two universities -- Oxford University and Oxford Brookes University -- have been preparing for the return of students later this month as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Both have been making safety preparations alongside local NHS trusts, as well Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council's public health team ahead of the Michaelmas term.

As students are welcomed back with cautious optimism, the county council's director of public health has appealed to them to follow simple steps to prevent the spread of Covid 19.

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Public health director Ansaf Azhar, who oversees Oxfordshire's local response to coronavirus, said: “It’s important to remember that the virus is as active as ever, so we’ve implemented a range of measures designed to protect incoming students and Oxford residents.

“While it’s easy for students to get carried away amid all the excitement of a new university year, it’s vitally important they remember that the virus still presents a risk and take preventative action and get tested promptly if they show symptoms."

He added that advice on the virus remained the same, saying: “We’re encouraging students and residents alike to follow those simple measures that help keep us all safe – keep your distance, wash your hands, wear a face covering.

"If we all do these things, we will avoid having to introduce measures that we’ve seen elsewhere in England.”

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Ansaf Azhar

Measures to make sure the first term back during the Covid pandemic is a safe one include a move away from large-scale face-to-face lectures, with both universities adopting online learning for most classes.

According to Oxfordshire County Council, only small scale and individual teaching will take place on campuses, and 'extensive risk assessments' have been carried out in line with guidance from the Health and Safety Executive.

Oxford University has also organised its own coronavirus testing service to boost the capacity of existing testing, while Oxford Brookes has been working with Oxfordshire County Council to establish an on-site Covid testing facility at its Headington campus.

READ HERE about the Brookes testing centre at the University's Fuller building

The Brookes testing centre has opened this week and is available by appointment for local residents, as well as students and staff.

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Oxford Brookes University

Local contact tracing systems have been established at both universities and outbreak control plans are in place.

These plans have been tested through joint exercises, and all students are being provided with advice and guidance about how to protect themselves and others.

Both universities have also published new documents setting out their expectations for student behaviour during the ongoing pandemic, with advice for how they should act both on and off campus.

Oxford University has described these plans as 'student responsibility agreements' and is asking all its students to sign them, whether they live in halls or private rented accommodation.

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Jan Royall, joint head of Oxford University's Michaelmas Coordination Group said: "Oxford University and its colleges look forward to welcoming all new and continuing students for Michaelmas term. The health and safety of all who study and work here, and the wider community in Oxford, is our highest priority, and we have been making adjustments to the way we live and work."

Baroness Royall added there would also be use of 'face coverings, social distancing, careful planning of building access, hand and surface sanitation, ventilation, use of Perspex screens' and other measures to control the virus.

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Radcliffe Square in central Oxford

Professor Alistair Fitt, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University said the safety of the city's community had been paramount in preparing for students' return.

Professor Fitt added: "We know that safety measures on campus will only be effective if they are accompanied by responsible behaviour from our students within the wider community. We have been in regular contact with our new and returning students over the summer and will continue to share videos and other information on acceptable behaviour which complies with the latest government guidance."

Oxford City Council's leader Susan Brown said students were a 'vital part' of the city's life and economy, but appealed to them to 'protect their new community and themselves, by following the guidance around stopping the spread of Covid 19'.

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Across the UK, the number of coronavirus infections seems to be on the rise again, but there is a much larger testing capacity now than at the start of the pandemic.

Earlier this week, the Government's health secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC he was worried students returning to university may cause a second spike in cases.

But the University and College Union, the UK's largest union for higher education workers, said the Government needed to make sure there were robust public health measures to stem any Covid outbreaks at univerity towns and cities.

When added together, the student population of Oxford is more than 40,000-strong, including postgraduates.

Oxford University has approximately 24,000 students in total (as of 2018), while Oxford Brookes has approximately 18,000.