Today is the first day of the full Easter Term.
In normal circumstances, our Colleges, labs, lecture halls and libraries would have been bustling with students preparing for the final stretch of the academic year. Our current reality, however, is starkly different.
The University is working on the basis that it will not be possible for students to return for the entirety of the Easter Term. Tremendous efforts have been made over the Easter holiday to ensure that, although we are unable to resume our in-person teaching and learning, we find new ways of ensuring that our students have the benefit of a Cambridge education.
Remote teaching and learning
Cambridge staff and students are adapting at great speed to remote teaching and learning methods. Thank you for your flexibility and extraordinary efforts.
Over the past few weeks, the Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning (CCTL) has worked with academic and professional services colleagues across the collegiate University to develop practical introductions to remote undergraduate supervision, lecturing, classes and seminars and locating online readings. These introductions address both educational and technical questions. They include detailed guidance on matters including accessibility for students with disabilities and neurodiverse profiles, and on how to guide inclusive discussions online. These introductions have now been published on CCTL's website. They are works in progress, and feedback is welcome (a contact address is available on the CCTL page).
Our Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, Professor Graham Virgo, will write to all students to provide an update on the ways in which the University will support staff and students in their remote working this term. Students can expect to hear directly from him soon - and of course they will be meeting their Tutors, Directors of Studies and supervisors in the coming days. I am grateful to all the teams that have worked so hard to make this large-scale transition to online learning easier.
Staff Hardship Loans and Grants
The University is committed to supporting its staff through these difficult times. Details were circulated at the end of last week to Faculties and Departments about the launch of two financial hardship schemes open to members of the University who have a contract of employment or a worker agreement with the University.
The Staff Welfare Loan is an interest-free loan to support staff who are facing short-term financial difficulty, and who have been unable to find funding from other recognisable and reputable sources, such as a bank or building society loan.
The Staff Hardship Grant is a one-off, non-repayable and taxable grant to University staff who are facing exceptional or unexpected hardship as a result of a loss of their income due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Further details about both schemes, including eligibility and the application process, are available on the HR Division website or through the links above.
Financial implications of the COVID-19 crisis
As would be expected, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an immediate and significant financial impact on the Collegiate University. Its implications have been felt, and will continue to be felt in a number of ways, including:
A dramatic shortfall in student rent this term, coupled with an expected loss of most conference income over the summer. Here, of course, the impact falls primarily on our Colleges.
A drop in the value of the endowment of 10%-15% this year, leading to lower pay-outs over time for both University and Colleges. Falls in the financial market may also feed into the cost of pensions in due course.
An immediate and substantial loss in income at Cambridge Assessment (CA) and Cambridge University Press (CUP) as examinations around the world are curtailed, and as school and university purchases of books are reduced or delayed. This means that CA and CUP are unlikely to be able to deliver net funds to the University in the short term.
An anticipated significant reduction in the number of new international students arriving for the next academic year, leading to a loss of fee income that will affect the budgets of both the University and Colleges.
Cost increases in the construction programme that is already underway, where building work has been suspended by the contractors but will have to be re-launched when that becomes possible.
Various essential costs related to closing and reopening the University, to moving teaching online and to supporting our staff and students during this most unsettling time.
As anyone reading this will know from even a cursory review of the daily news, it is very difficult at present to forecast the length and severity of the public health crisis, and of the subsequent economic problems. We estimate that even a downturn that resolves itself in late 2020 or early 2021, with a relatively quick return to normal thereafter, would cause the Collegiate University a reduction in cash-flow of hundreds of millions of pounds compared to previous carefully considered projections.
The University’s financial strategy has been set to manage this sort of extreme financial scenario and we are in a better financial position than many in the sector, with adequate liquidity for the time being. There is no need for emergency cost saving measures that could damage long term effectiveness of the University, but the University will need to redouble its focus on efficiency to improve financial performance. As it seems likely that the global financial disruption and uncertainty might extend into 2022, we have concluded that it would not be appropriate to commit material new capital expenditure until the position becomes clearer. We have also paused non-essential recruitment.
Tackling COVID-19 – Student volunteers
Many students resident in Cambridge have shown an interest in volunteering to help local and national efforts to contain and manage the pandemic. Some have expressed disappointment that volunteering schemes appear to be open only to staff. In fact, students interested in volunteering can do so, as long as the necessary vetting has been carried out, and the right health and safety conditions have been met. I urge students interested in helping to visit the University’s dedicated Help us Tackle COVID-19 page to understand the volunteering opportunities and requirements.
Tackling COVID-19 – A global effort
One of the things that the pandemic has made obvious is how thoroughly and intricately connected we are across the world. We are rallying our finest local talent, but sustainable solutions will ultimately have to be delivered on a global scale, and in partnership with others.
Details have recently been published of a call for proposals for collaborative projects involving the University of Cambridge and Tsinghua University, in Beijing, aimed at addressing urgent challenges in relation to the Covid-19 global health emergency. Research projects can focus upon any aspect of the COVID-19 emergency, though priority will be given to projects with potential impact on a short to medium-term timescale, demonstrating strong collaboration between the two institutions. The deadline for submission of applications is 8 May.
The CRUK Cambridge Cancer Centre, on our Biomedical Campus, has been working closely with other leading European cancer institutions, sharing guidance on patient care and scientific research to ensure that their essential work can be made pandemic-proof.
Meanwhile, colleagues at the Whittle Laboratory have been turning the expertise normally applied to improving the designs of jet engines and gas turbines to the design of open-source ventilators that are simple, safe and affordable, and can be readily deployed in low and middle income countries.
Help with home-schooling
The Easter holiday is officially over for children, so many parents will once again be thinking about ways of supporting their children’s education from home.
Since closing to the public, the Museum of Zoology has ramped up its online presence, and recently published a film showcasing some of the highlights from its collections. In its new blog the Museum offers zoological activities for people of all ages to try at home, the most popular of which has been its "Open Your Window Bingo", which encourages people to notice the wildlife without leaving home.
Yesterday’s edition of The Guardian published a quiz, set by the Fitzwilliam Museum, which may help children learn about art history as well as remind us all about the Fitz’s magnificent collections.
With best wishes,
Professor Stephen J Toope