Weekly news roundup: Oriel College controversy leads to boycott, US visa backlog causes concerns in new student intake

By Lily Martin• Published on: Jul 17, 2021
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This week’s news comes from the UK and US, with the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge hitting the headlines again, although in very different ways.

In the US, concerns about a backlog in visa applications have been raised and addressed by a representative from the Department of State.

Here’s your weekly higher education news roundup. 

US visa delays at consulates not expected to be resolved soon

Delegates at the NAFSA 2021 conference have said that the US government does not expect to “quickly resume” full operating capacity in its visa processing services.

Concerns have been raised for the new 2021 international student intake at US universities due to large numbers of US consulates around the world not processing visa applications. This could prevent students reaching campuses in the autumn for the start of the new academic year.

A US Department of State official has said that while consular services are offering as many appointments as they can, there are “large visa backlogs”.

“We understand all of the frustrations and hardships that you guys are experiencing, “ said Kathryn Strong, visa policy analyst for the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the Department of State.

“We are working as hard as our resources and local conditions allow to adjudicate visa applications as quickly as possible.”

She added that President Biden has directed the Department of State to resume visa processing services.

Currently, US embassies and consulates that process non-immigrant visa applications are prioritising students and exchange visitors second after travellers with urgent needs, foreign diplomats and those critical to the Covid-19 pandemic response.

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Oxford University dons boycott Oriel College over Cecil Rhodes statue

Dons at the University of Oxford are refusing to teach at Oriel College over the decision to not take down a controversial statue of Cecil Rhodes.

Campaigners have been petitioning for years for the statue to be removed, due to the figure’s involvement with colonialism in the 19th century, as well as his role in paving the way for aparthaid.

Last month, the college decided that it would not remove the statue due to the costs and “complex” planning processes. This is despite a commission that was set up to examine the statue’s future saying that the “majority” of its members supported its removal.

Cecil Rhodes was a student at Oriel and left £100,000 - about £12.5 million in today’s money - to the college in his will in 1902. Around £200,000 of this endowment remains, the commission’s report found.

The Oxford lecturers say that the decision of Oriel College to not remove the statue “undermines us all”.

“Faced with Oriel’s stubborn attachment to a statue that glorifies colonialism and the wealth it produced for the college, we feel we have no choice but to withdraw all discretionary work and goodwill collaborations,” said a statement from the organisers of the boycott.

Cambridge Classics Professor completes Greek dictionary rewrite

A leading Cambridge University Professor of Classics has completed a new ancient Greek dictionary, the first to take a new approach to the language in 170 years.

The text revises the language’s standard reference book, originally published in 1843, with the project first beginning back in 1997. It was hoped that the rewrite would take five years, in actuality it took over twenty.

Professor James Diggle, for whom the project has been a labour of love, the Cambridge Greek Lexicon is the product of decades of hard work.

“For the last 15 years or more I did little else,” he told The Times.

The 1,500-page work has been hailed as “the largest-scale project of new lexicography on Greek literature since the 16th century”. With over 37,000 words, the inclusion of crude words from the Homeric era which were censored by the Victorians, have gained substantial attention.

Professor Diggle explained that his definitions “spare no blushes” for the 21st century reader.

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