A message from the Vice-Chancellor about arrangements for the Lent term and the impact of the new lockdown on students and staff.

Dear all, 

We are all coming to terms with the realities of the national lockdown, and I am writing to you today with important new information about the Lent term.  

Lent term – Students 

The University and Colleges remain open, and will continue to engage in research, learning and education. 

After considerable reflection, we have taken the difficult decision to move all teaching and learning for undergraduate and postgraduate taught students online for the entirety of the Lent term. Undergraduate and postgraduate taught students should remain where they are currently staying. This decision follows Government guidance, but goes further in time to avoid uncertainty and disruption in the middle of the term. 

Exceptions are: clinical Medical, clinical Veterinary and PGCE students; students without access to appropriate study spaces or facilities; and students who need to be in Cambridge for specific reasons, including health or safety reasons. Students in these categories must contact their College directly to discuss their circumstances, and to be given guidance about access to testing

We are seeking advice on whether students on any other courses not mentioned above will be able to return. Until further notice, no other students should expect in-person teaching this term. 

Postgraduate research students who are able to work from their out-of-term address should do so. Postgraduate research students who consider Cambridge to be their primary place of residence can return to Cambridge if they have not already done so. 

Those postgraduate research students who need to be in Cambridge for their research projects can return provided this has been discussed and agreed with their College and Department, and that appropriate risk assessments have been conducted. We ask that in any event they do not return before 11 January, when individual asymptomatic testing will be available. 

As stated yesterday, international students who are able to change their return travel plans should do so. Please be in touch with your College authorities to let them know where you will be during the Lent term. Students who travel to Cambridge will have to stay in Cambridge for the duration of the national lockdown. 

I realise that many students have remained in residence over the winter break. Those students who are currently in Cambridge are being asked to remain in Cambridge, where they can expect to be supported by the University and Colleges. 

The Colleges have agreed that rent will only be charged by Colleges to students if they are living in their College accommodation during the national lockdown period instigated by government. Colleges will not charge students who are not able to return to Cambridge as a result of the current government legislation and guidance. 

Students are facing considerable anxiety and uncertainty as we begin Lent term, and I wish to remind you of some of the resources available to support your health and wellbeing. It is also important for students to remember that Colleges are always available to provide support and advice to those dealing with issues relating to their mental health and wellbeing. 

Lent term – Staff 

The Government’s emphatic guidance is that everyone who can work from home should do so. I realise that this is likely to increase the burden on colleagues, including on those who now face childcare and schooling duties following the closure of schools.  

I understand that for many it will not be possible to work in the usual way during the coming weeks. I want to encourage you all to approach your roles with added flexibility to enable you to deal with caring responsibilities, or to take some time out during the day to manage your health and wellbeing. I ask team leaders to be especially aware of the pressures on their teams, and to ensure that teams are not asked to do more than is really necessary. 

We learned from the first lockdown how challenging it can be to juggle our personal and professional roles. We also learned how important it is, amid the crush of work-related tasks, to make time and space for ourselves and our families.  

I am confident that all our colleagues will make best efforts to fulfil the expectations of their roles. But please be reassured that we are not expecting anyone to do more than is reasonable in the current circumstances, and in light of our overlapping commitments. 

Finally, I ask that we all work with colleagues to identify specific tasks or projects that can be paused as we balance different and unexpected demands on our time over the coming months.   

Staff – 'critical worker' status 

The Department for Education has confirmed that staff in higher education institutions are deemed to be critical workers for the purpose of children’s access to school places. We are also aware, however, that local schools taking in the children of critical workers are under severe pressure to limit their capacity in order to manage infection and prevent new outbreaks.  

Head Teachers and school governing bodies have been asked to make their own risk assessments, and to recommend the maximum capacity they are able to manage safely. Despite the critical worker status for University and College staff, schools retain discretion to set priorities in the way they allocate places. It may not be possible therefore for all the children of University or College staff to get a school place. 

Lent term – Research 

Most of the University’s research facilities will remain open, as allowed by Government guidance, and COVID-secure protocols will be updated to take account of the heightened risk of transmission for the new COVID variant. I must reiterate, however, the Government’s request that only people who absolutely cannot work from home can go into their normal places of work.  

Let me be blunt: you must work from home if at all possible. Wanting to work in a laboratory, office or university facility because it is preferable or more convenient is not a good enough reason to do so. There must be a compelling cause. Staff wishing to go into their usual workplace must have the agreement of their Heads of Institution. Members of the University community who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable must not go into places of work or study. 

Now more than ever, I am grateful to those colleagues working on-site who are essential to keeping our buildings functional, and to ensuring the continuity of some of our practical courses. 

University Library and Botanic Garden 

The University Library will close for in-person visits and study, but Click and Collect and Scan and Deliver services have restarted.  

Library resources and services continue to expand online to support users, wherever they are during lockdown. Cambridge University Libraries are very carefully considering what may be possible regarding future access to research reading rooms at the University Library, and to study space at the Faculty and Departmental Libraries. This involves a review of current risk assessments for various sites. Further information will follow as soon as possible. 

I am pleased to report that the Cambridge University Botanic Garden remains open to anyone who enjoys a bracing winter walk in a place of rare beauty. 

Tackling COVID-19 

The public health concerns behind the lockdown are very worrying, and I know that the restrictions it imposes on all of us will create new challenges and pressures. Colleagues across the collegiate University are working hard to ensure that staff and students are supported at all times. I thank you for all your efforts. 

I am enormously proud of the University’s efforts in tackling the global pandemic – one example is the contribution made by Dr Ben Underwood and his team last year to support the delivery of coronavirus vaccine trials in Cambridge.  

Just before Christmas, we heard that the Cambridge COVID-19 Testing Centre, set up in April on our Biomedical Campus, had processed two million tests. This very significant milestone is a testament to the tireless work of the many people who have done so much to keep our community safe. 

At a pivotal point in the health crisis, as vaccines are rolled out across the country, over 200 clinical students have volunteered to do shifts in the vaccination hub on the Biomedical Campus to help with the delivery of vaccines to the community and NHS staff, and our clinical staff are also volunteering in significant numbers to work full time for the NHS. To all of them, our sincere thanks. 

Best wishes, 


Professor Stephen J Toope