Oxford University exams cancelled after pro-Palestinian protests

Protesters hold Palestine flags as they walk outside the Exam Schools at Oxford University
Protesters hold Palestine flags as they walk outside the Exam Schools at Oxford University - Martin Anderson / Alamy Live News

Oxford University has been forced to cancel exams after pro-Palestinian protesters stormed a building on campus.

The university called off end-of-year exams for 153 second-year chemistry students that were due to take place on Thursday morning, The Telegraph understands.

It came after six demonstrators stormed the East School building in the university’s Exams Schools complex at around 9am. The protesters hung pro-Palestine flags out of windows, including one saying: “All eyes on Rafah.”

Thames Valley Police attended the scene, though no arrests were made.

One student told Cherwell, an Oxford student newspaper, that a group stayed in the building on High Street, Oxford, overnight on Wednesday. A second group of around 20 people wearing “masks and backpacks” then later attempted to enter, they said.

Pro-Palestinian protesters from an autonomous group hang flags out of windows in the East School building
Pro-Palestinian protesters from an autonomous group hang flags out of windows in the East School building - Kyra Radley

Oxford Action for Palestine (OA4P), a grassroots protest group of Oxford University students, shared a post on Instagram saying it needed “support outside Exam Schools”. It is not clear if those who disrupted the exams were members of OA4P, and the group did not respond to requests for comment from The Telegraph.

An Oxford University spokesman said the incident was “unacceptable” and went further than necessary.

“The university is disappointed with this morning’s occupation of the Exam Schools and the absolutely unacceptable disruption caused to our students,” they said.

“We are putting into place contingency plans to ensure all students will have the opportunity to sit their examinations with as little disruption as possible… While the University supports the right to peaceful protest within the law and our rules, this action plainly goes beyond the bounds of acceptable protest.”

Protesters arrested

It comes after 16 pro-Palestinian protesters from the OA4P group were arrested last month after occupying another building at the university.

Thames Valley Police said they arrested demonstrators from the protest group on suspicion of aggravated trespass, with one detained on suspicion of common assault.

The demonstrators had entered an administrative building in Oxford’s Wellington Square and hung a banner from the first floor with a list of seven demands for the university. They included calls for the institution to “disclose all finances”, “divest from Israeli genocide, apartheid, and occupation”, and “support Palestinian-led rebuilding of education in Gaza”.

The building, where Oxford college heads had been meeting at the time, was placed in lockdown. Footage posted on social media by OA4P also showed altercations between police officers and students on the road outside.

In a statement following the incident, an Oxford University spokesman said it was “not a peaceful sit-in, but a violent action that included forcibly overpowering the receptionist”.

“It is clear that a faction of students and faculty claiming to represent OA4P have not been interested in dialogue in good faith,” the spokesman added.

Irene Tracey, Oxford’s vice-chancellor, wrote to staff and students last month warning that members of the public had expressed “feeling fearful or uncomfortable as a result” of recent protests.

Tents have been erected across the campus for several weeks to host sit-ins in response to the Israel-Hamas war, after large-scale protests at US universities caused a ripple effect across the globe.

It includes a growing number of encampments at British universities protesting the war in Gaza, including Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, Leeds, Warwick, Swansea, Bristol and University College London.

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