How are universities in the UK affected by COVID-19 and what actions are they taking?

Universities around the UK mostly followed pursuit in following government advice and gradually implemented institutional lockdown measures while moving to teach online. Some are involved in the research, whereas other schools and universities face unprecedented challenges that they must make necessary adjustments to accommodate a large population in this crucial sector.

University of Oxford 

Oxford took swift but gradual steps to suspend assessments and move to teach online when adapting to the detrimental effects of coronavirus (COVID-19). The vice-chancellor sent a letter early March stating that an outbreak at the University was “inevitable” and that they have been preparing for this since early February. At first, vulnerable staff and students were advised to go home after cancelling/postponing Easter examinations. Shortly after Stage 4 of its emergency response plan was initiated, operations closed except some including the COVID-19 research laboratories that are at the forefront of global efforts in understanding the virus and to finding a cure. Follow their progress here.

More information can be found on the University of Oxford page here.

University of Cambridge 

40% of their students are international, and they faced difficulty in trying to get homes before flight restrictions. They followed similar steps to Oxford, leading to their lockdown, details can be found here. They are also at the forefront in understanding COVID-19, a £20 million investment from the University was given to the Genomics UK Consortium to deliver large scale, rapid sequencing of the cause of the disease and to share intelligence with hospitals, the NHS and the government. Aiming to capture the experience of the Collegiate University and the City of Cambridge during the pandemic, Cambridge University Library has launched a new collaborative collection.

Keeper of the University Archives said:

“In launching this appeal for material, we want to revive the shared enthusiasm for themed collecting which assembled the Great War Collection at the University Library from 1915 onwards and the more recent collection on our Brexit materials, launched in 2016.”

Queen Mary University of London

Universities are in a race to find the vaccine for coronavirus. Queen Mary has organised their medical students form years 1-4 to volunteer, and are working on ways to offer NHS staff accommodation. At Queen Mary BioEnterprises Innovation Centre in Whitechapel, they are offering volunteers £3500 to be infected by a form of the coronavirus to find a vaccine. More information, click here.

Warwick University

The University announced further details for the intermediate final year online assessments. All assessments will have a 24-hour assessment window to be completed taking into account the different time zones. They also have an extra 45 minutes allocated to download and upload answers through an alternative exams portal. Five different types of online assessment have replaced all exams. These include Assignments, open-book assessments, file-based open book exams, multiple-choice question sets and oral exams. Read more here. 

City, University of London

Most of the campus buildings closed on Friday, March 20th. Face-to-face teaching has already ended, and staff are continuing to support students while working remotely as they mostly take similar actions to the other universities. A research expert at Cass Business School has developed a model which pools the intensive care unit (ICU) facilities to improve care for COVID-19 patients. Find out more here. 

The University of Edinburgh, University of Nottingham and Newcastle University

These institutions have announced the option of early graduation dates for medical students who were supposed to graduate in 3 months. These students have passed their exams and completed assignments in line with the General Medical Council. After a foundation programme, they can fast track to supporting the battle against the pandemic. Find out more here. 

University of Essex 

 At first, the University moved all teaching online, but parts of the University remained open such as the library, shops and catering outlets. Following government advice, these also closed and have caused increased pressure on workers and student staff when cases reached 1000. More than 250 people have signed an open letter to the University of Essex in protest against its decision to suspend contracts for zero-hour workers as they are left without pay for the foreseeable future. Read more here. 

University of Brighton

They have also followed in the footsteps of other university closures. Due to their vast number of international students, they have published useful FAQ’s with visa related questions etc. here.