University of Oxford students should be given compensation if they are affected by the Oriel boycott, Downing Street has said.

Any undergraduates whose studies are disrupted by academics’ refusal to teach them should be recompensed by the university, according to the Prime Minister’s spokesman.

The Government’s intervention came as Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg branded the group of Oxford dons who signed up to the boycott a “useless bunch”.

He said: “As regards the academics refusing to teach, I’m half tempted to say you should be lucky not to be taught by such a useless bunch, but if they are that feeble, what are you missing and what are they doing there? Why don’t they have any pride in their country, our marvellous history and our success?"

On Thursday night Oxford’s vice-Chancellor Louise Richardson said she was “deeply disappointed” that academics would seek to “punish” students for a decision that was taken by their college’s governing body. 

Earlier this week, The Telegraph revealed that more than 150 Oxford dons are boycotting Oriel College and refusing to teach its students in protest at its decision to keep the Cecil Rhodes statue.

The rebel dons say they will refuse to give tutorials to Oriel’s undergraduate students and discontinue any assistance they give the college with its outreach work, including interviewing undergraduates.

British colonial statesman and financier Cecil John Rhodes, who made a fortune from mining diamonds in South Africa and used his wealth to extend and solidify British rule there

Credit: Getty Images

They have also pledged to withdraw from all talks, seminars and conferences sponsored by Oriel and halt their involvement in recruiting fellows or any other appointments at the college.

Signatories of the boycott statement include Prof Kate Tunstall, the interim head of Worcester College, Robert Gildea, an emeritus professor of history, and Miles Larmer, a professor of African history.

Prof Richardson said: “Oxford’s brilliant academics are rightly renowned for their dedication to teaching, so I am deeply disappointed that some of my colleagues would choose to punish students, and prospective students, for the actions of their College’s Governing Body, especially after the prolonged disruption of teaching during the pandemic.”

Oriel College also said it “notes with sadness” that some academics have chosen not to accept its decision to keep the Rhodes statue adding that all academics have a duty of care to students. 

It was decide that the controversial statue of Cecil Rhodes will remain at Oxford's Oriel College several weeks ago. The statue is situated on Oriel's Grade II listed High Street building, and its removal would be subject to legal and planning processes involving Oxford City Council, Historic England and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

Credit: John Nguyen/JNVisuals

Speaking in the Commons on Thursday, Mr Rees-Mogg said that Rhodes is “not a black and white figure” adding: “Perhaps they’re not learned enough to have bothered to look up the history of Rhodes in any detail, which has been written about quite extensively now and as I say, he is a figure of importance and of interest and of enormous generosity to Oxford.

“Do they want to give the money back to the descendants of Cecil Rhodes, or are they intending to keep it to themselves?”

Referring to claims that Churchill College, Cambridge could be renamed, he said: “Perhaps we should introduce a Bill to rename Cambridge, Churchill and call it Churchill University and that would be one in the eye for the Lefties."

The college said it has no plans to change its name.

Mr Rees Mogg also criticised a decision taken earlier this week by students at Oxford’s Magdalen College to remove a portrait of the Queen from the middle common room wall on the basis that it represented an unwelcoming symbol of "recent colonial history”.

He said it was nothing more than “a few pimply adolescents getting excited and taking down a picture of Her Majesty”, adding: “It makes Magdalen look pretty wet, but it’s not the end of the world."

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “Students rightly expect to get a good deal for their investment in higher education and we would expect universities to take appropriate action should any student be seriously affected by these actions which could include compensation.

"We fully believe in protecting academic freedom but universities have a duty to maintain access to good-quality tuition as a priority especially given the disruption the pandemic has caused students already."

On Thursday it emerged the higher education watchdog has been instructed by ministers to "monitor" the situation at Oxford to ensure all students are receiving high quality tuition.

Students began campaigning for the Rhodes statue to be taken down in 2015, but the toppling of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol at the height of last summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations reignited the "Rhodes Must Fall" protests.

Rhodes, a British imperialist who founded Rhodesia and served as prime minister of the Cape Colony in the 1890s, donated a huge sum to Oriel in his will. He was not a slave trader but supported apartheid-style measures in southern Africa.