Jonny Harper30/03/2020

It’s a hard time for the HE sector right now. Actually, it’s a hard time for most sectors; unless you manufacture hand sanitizer or loo roll, chances are you’re experiencing uncertainty and worry. So I thought now would be a good time to remind the sector just how brilliant you all are, how important our universities are and how much you contribute.

Four years ago, I wrote a blog about how amazing the HE sector is. A year later, I wrote another one. And now in 2020 I find myself writing yet another one! All with different reasons for how great you are, but a common theme running through: you’re amazing and you always will be.

Here are some recent, COVID-19 related examples of why you are so fantastic, and why the UK needs you:

  • Universities are leading the way in finding a low-cost test for coronavirus. In February, the BBC reported on a screening trial planned by the University of Leicester. Simple, effective and low cost testing is an incredibly important tool in our struggle against the crisis.
  • Universities are leading the way in finding a vaccine for COVID-19. On 27th March, the University of Oxford opened recruitment for its clinical trials to find a vaccine. That’s an incredibly quick response from a university able to run a human clinical trial just weeks after the coronavirus reached the UK.
  • Universities are supporting treatment. The University of Bradford have offered six high-spec machines to make parts of ventilators and other components required by the NHS. Nottingham Trent University and University of Nottingham between them supplied 16 machines that can perform 20,000 tests for the virus. The University of Cambridge is spearheading the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium, an alliance to better understand and control the infection. There are so many universities making or donating personal protective equipment to support the NHS that I can’t list them all here – just know that you are fabulous.
  • Universities are bringing in additional measures to support their students, to help with problems that no-one could have foreseen. Goldsmiths have fast-tracked applications to their hardship fund to help students with unexpected costs, such as for international students to fly home.
  • Universities are reaching out to the community: the University of Derby has donated food care packages for the city’s vulnerable residents; a student at the University of Exeter created a free-to-download children’s book to explain the lockdown in a way a child could understand; University of Manchester are part of a local rapid response research group to find ways to beat COVID-19 and save lives.
  • Universities were some of the first institutions to respond effectively to the crisis, proactively imposing restrictions to protect students and staff before they became mandated by government. You stood behind your people and I know you always will.

It’s a strange and difficult time for everyone at the moment, and I know there’s a lot of uncertainty among friends and colleagues in the HE sector. But I also know that even at this difficult time, you’re getting involved, you’re supporting the country and you’re making a difference. It’s not easy but you’ll get through it. You’re proactive, you’re knowledgeable and you’re hugely important to the UK. I’m mega proud of all your efforts. Hang in there.