From remote learning to providing labs to research COVID-19, higher education has been characteristically creative in its response to the COVID-19 crisis
COVID-19 has presented an unprecedented challenge to the UK’s higher education sector. Not since the Second World War have campuses seen studies put on hold and closed for the duration.
Despite this challenge, work has not stopped. Far from it. In many ways it has adapted itself in a positive and innovative ways to the challenge that the sector and the wider community faces. Here are just some of the way’s academia has marshalled its resources to contribute to the battle being waged by the NHS and key workers against COVID-19.
A large number of universities have set up research funds to fast-track studies into the new virus. Teams at Oxford University and Imperial College London have made “rapid progress” on trials to develop a vaccine to the virus. Imperial is among the institutions that have been at the forefront of efforts to model and map COVID-19’s spread. 
Universities have also been contributing to the frontline efforts, too. It feels heart-warming to appreciate the breadth and scale of efforts taking place to boost the frontline in all sorts of ways.
Engineers at the University of Warwick are 3D printing face shields for NHS workers to use, taking just six minutes to print each visor. Part of a range of efforts, Warwick’s students and staff are contributing ventilators, visors, volunteers and testing. Researchers at the University of Birmingham’s School of Chemical Engineering are making face visors for use by frontline medical staff at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. 
University of Birmingham experts also developed disposable plastic ‘pop up tents’ that covers the patient’s head, neck and shoulder area, creating a protective barrier between healthcare workers and patients. The Disposable Resuscitation, Intubation and Nebulisation Kit Shield – or DRs INK Shield – has gone from concept to taking orders in just one week. 
Portable and accurate tests for COVID-19 have been pioneered at University of South Wales. University of Chester is among those institutions that have pooled medical supplies and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to reinforce hard-pressed health workers.
Newcastle University has handed over its campus buildings and facilities for NHS use. Among its many efforts, it is manufacturing PPE, giving to food banks, and sending its screening and testing equipment to bolster the NHS.
Medical students have seen their studies cut short to send them off straight to hospitals to broaden the ranks of the NHS. Other students are providing childcare or animal care for key workers, helping them stay at work to fight the virus.
While higher education teaching has in many cases gone online to make the most of remote learning technology, fears about many students’ ability to overcome the strain on personal finances caused by the virus has led to emergency funds set up to help lighten the burden for those struggling with fees and other costs.
The effects of COVID-19 will be profound for higher education, and they will long outlast the virus itself. What we can say, through the amazing work going on at these institutions and many others not mentioned here, is that universities are alert to these challenges, and they are working night and day to combat COVID-19.
Published Date: 20th May 2020
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