News & Insights

POSTED Wednesday 26-05-21

How universities have adapted to COVID

As part of our Education & Skills Sector Focus – we are delighted to report on how well Universities have adapted to the pandemic.

Whether it’s mobilising huge amounts of resources and teaching online, restructuring exams, implementing No Detriment policies for assignments, setting up test centres, and a whole lot more, universities have striven to support not only their students but their local communities during the course of Covid-19.

While in-person resources such as physical library books and face-to-face office hours with professors have remained inaccessible, there has been a monumental effort to provide digital resources to students so that they can continue learning and complete their degrees. Further, universities have sought to mobilise groups to provide both emotional and material support to students, especially those self-isolating.

Here are some examples of how universities have supported their students:

  • The University of York set up the Emergency Student Support Fund, with donations by alumni, friends, and additional supporters. It provides bursaries of up to £500 for students facing unanticipated financial struggles due to the pandemic.
  • The University of Surrey has extended its student financial hardship fund and run a similar Emergency Student Support Appeal – it has raised £240,000 to date.
  • Solent University provided Asda vouchers to students in need, and have extended well-being and self-isolation support services through the students’ union. They have also set up a foodbank and grocery deliveries to self-isolating students in halls, something Portsmouth University has similarly carried out.
  • The University of London has provided fact-checked news updates, as well as guidance on how to deal with boredom (including fitness guides).
  • JISC has collaborated with Kortext (the UK’s leading digital textbook platform) to ensure students nationwide have had access to crucial online resources in the period leading up to exams. 120 UK universities have been set up and textbook content has reached upwards of 1.4 million students.

While students have been a priority for universities, students have also given support alongside universities to provide resources as well as physically help out key workers and vulnerable members of their communities. For instance:

  • The University of Newcastle has set up a driving service so that laboratory screening staff at the Freeman Hospital can get to work and go home after long shifts without having to use public transport.
  • The University of Manchester set up teams of volunteers to help sanitise vans, fridges, and leftover food for a local foodbank and homeless charity, while others collected groceries, carried out baby/petsitting, or manned surgery desks for their local GPs. Other universities have set up volunteer lists to carry out similar work, including delivering school meals, food shopping, dog walking, and picking up medication.
  • Kingston University is working with the Kingston Chamber of Commerce to help local businesses face the challenges of the pandemic. The University of Bradford similarly has an open invitation for businesses who require help and support. Meanwhile, Robert Gordon University has offered 400 fully-funded places for online short courses which focus on building businesses and providing individuals with skills and opportunities to keep working during the pandemic.
  • Multiple universities have provided training to key workers including instructional videos on how to use PPE and ventilators, as well as specialist training in respiratory physiotherapy.
  • Universities across the UK have mobilised their medical students so that they can provide additional support in hospitals and healthcare centres.
  • Various universities have published resources to help those who found themselves suddenly having to home-school their children and teenagers.
  • Lastly, universities provide crucial research into the potential for the pandemic to exacerbate existing social inequalities, including gender inequality and domestic violence; race, gender, and disability inequality as certain groups are more likely to be made redundant during the pandemic; and wealth inequality as job security more adversely affected lower income groups. From there they created calls to action.

And even further, universities were at the forefront of virus and vaccine research which has helped us see light at the end of the tunnel of this long pandemic. Just a small sample of examples include:

  • Mathematical modelling work from Imperial College London and the University of Manchester informed the government’s response to the pandemic and provided insights into how it spreads. Meanwhile, the University of Southampton is modelling the most effective Covid-19 interventions around the world to help with global response efforts.
  • The University of Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh are collaborating on a £4.9 million government-funded project to understand how the virus impacts the human body. The University of Bristol is conducting similar research.
  • The University of Southampton and Queen’s University Belfast have trialled an inhaled drug to prevent Covid-19 worsening and been awarded funding to find a treatment for coronavirus respectively.
  • The University of Leeds are researching what local measures are the most effective at preventing the virus spread.
  • Students at the University of Roehampton have created the Folding@Home project in which personal gaming machines and high-spec computers are being used to calculate protein folding to contribute to coronavirus research. Similarly, a Cranfield University student has created a public dashboard with information about Covid-19 in Nigeria.
  • Multiple universities (too many to list) have been at the forefront of vaccine research and development, as well as efficient and effective testing.

This is not to mention the resources donated (including hardware for ventilators, equipment, hand sanitisers, etc.), the research conducted into PPE and ventilators, as well as research into the best means of emotional and psychological support for those self-isolating and in lockdown.

Perhaps one of the reasons we are seeing so many successes is the trending hashtag #WeAreTogether, an online campaign set up by Universities UK to promote Covid-19 responses at both local and global levels. They have gone above and beyond to promote success stories and inspire other universities to take up calls to action. The result is ongoing, with a huge amount of support, research, resource, and funds being allocated specifically to meet the pandemic’s many challenges.

As lockdown eases, it is likely that the foundations of online learning and community support will remain, as the pandemic’s consequences and effects stretch out far into the future. What form university education will take is perhaps uncertain at the moment, but universities have tried to adapt to what has been for everybody a difficult and unstable period.