Oxford student welfare “unacceptable”

With a little more than a week left in office, OUSU’s Executive has fired a parting shot at the University, publishing a series of damning reports on Oxford’s “unacceptable” standards of student welfare.

In the reports, submitted to Oxford’s governing body, three of OUSU’s six sabbatical officers have attacked colleges for “confusing, exhausting and humiliating” welfare practices. One report has promised that the Student Union would “become more vocal and more demanding if meaningful commitments and progress aren’t adopted as a matter of urgency”.

The same report includes the accusation that colleges had been illegally sharing information on its individual cases of mental health with students’ parents and friends.

Such actions contravene the University’s confidentiality policy, which states that “matters relating to the health and welfare of individuals must be treated as confidential”, and permission must be sought to pass on students’ information “where possible”.

Dani Quinn, OUSU VP for Welfare and Equal Opportunities, wrote: “Some of Oxford’s colleges need to look to the practice of their neighbours if the collegiate nature of the University is to be a strength, not a weakness, in Oxford’s student support structure.

“I regret to say that many – though not all – cases were due to colleges or their staff behaving in a way that represented extraordinarily high levels of legal and/or reputational risk.”

This February, The Oxford Student reported that at least 13 colleges had no specific policy for dealing with students with mental health difficulties, with 12 colleges classing such students as “disabled”. The report also revealed that Lady Margaret Hall’s mental health policy included no reference to “welfare”, “mental health” or “Fitness to Study”.

Quinn’s report also urges colleges to adopt firmer mental health and welfare practices to ensure better academic performance. She said: “Many of the best-performing colleges have strong rehabilitative measures for students who are experiencing academic difficulties, while those further down the Norrington tend to use punitive measures.

“It is frankly amazing how greatly some colleges’ approach to discipline continues to perpetuate the guilt complex suffered by those who may have experienced abuse, harassment or other traumatic incidents. Added to this is the fact that college officers often call students’ parents to tell them about their current welfare, which is infantilising, dangerous and illegal.”

Reverend Simon Jones, Chaplain of Merton College, said: “I have never personally heard of any concerns over students’ confidentiality, either in Merton or in other colleges. We certainly take confidentiality very seriously at Merton.”

The report written by OUSU’s Sabbatical Officer for Graduates, Sarah Hutchinson, added that “the devolved nature of the collegiate University means that [welfare] policy is not always consistently applied”.



  1. Anonymous

    28th June 2010 at 21:59

    As a first year student, I have experience that there is a distinct inability for certain colleges to deal with disabilities, and also absolute lack of willingness to provide support. The end result is the student suffering from disciplinary procedures – from the first term (even before the first collection) – something which provides absolutely no encouragement, and in fact turn the students away from their subject. When any comment is made, the staff is uncaring. This is clear discrimination. I would like to see OUSU take a real stand against these practices in the future.

  2. Agree

    12th April 2011 at 13:58

    I agree with the above comment. the article shows a very realistic picture of an Oxford experince should a student have a disability or an illness. The lack of performance is interpretted as a failure to engage with work and thus disciplinary measures are put in place – I had that experince myself and it took a major health insident on my behalf for my first college to realize that something is wrong. The help i received there was none – i was sent down for a year with disicplinary note and conditions i had to fulfill in order to return (not to metion endless chain of emails where i tried to point out that i am unwell so the difficulties are a result of my health condition not my character and inclinations). I returned to a different degree at a different college (since St Hilda’s – my collge at the time did not agree that a change of a subject would be beneficial so refused to admit me back). At a new collge i also experinced difficultied with organizing and performing yet they treated my health needs with more understanding. A freind advised me to be assessed for a learning disability and i was diagnosed with one. This is my final year and a final term of my final year – my problems persisted, the adequate support i should have had from the start of my degree became avaialable only in Hilary of this year and finencial support and other material help is likely to be in place only in Trinity….does this sound like a responsible handing of a student with disability… i would have thought that is a student is struggling to perform it is a collges duty to wonder why rather than me getting an advice from an uninvolved and accademically disinterested friend …ironic really

  3. Anonymous

    27th February 2012 at 23:02

    I got summarily rusticated for self harming. Typical Oxford.

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