Tomorrow is the end of the Full Easter Term. Cambridge’s quiet streets seem almost unrecognisable to anyone who has ever witnessed the end of the academic year, and the start of May Week, with its exuberance and almost palpable sense of relief, joy and achievement. While recognising the sadness of the loss of this traditional end to our year in Cambridge, I am enormously gratified by the way our staff and students adapted to ensure that, in spite of the disruption, teaching and learning continued.
Though term has ended, planning for the next academic year continues apace. I would urge all students to continue to monitor their emails, and to regularly visit the University’s Coronavirus webpage, for any updates.
Work continues to ensure the safe re-opening of some buildings. I am grateful to members of the Buildings Taskforce, and to colleagues including departmental administrators and buildings and facilities managers, for their monumental efforts to get so many colleagues back into their places of work. My senior team and I have had constructive meetings with government officials, research funding bodies and fellow University leaders to discuss the higher education sector’s urgent needs. Meanwhile, at its meeting next week, the University Council will be giving further consideration to the financial implications of the pandemic.
It is obvious that the world will not simply spring back from the pandemic. We will have to adapt, as a collegiate community, to the many continuing challenges posed by COVID-19. This will not be simple, and it will not be swift. It will require creativity, patience, and respect. As we begin in earnest the process of welcoming back staff and students to onsite work and study, it has never been more important to look after ourselves and others. To that end, the University and the Colleges have agreed on a COVID Community Statement that we hope will inform and guide our interactions in the months ahead. I ask you all to read, and be guided by, this statement of intent for the Collegiate University community.
COVID and Continuing Education
The Institute of Continuing Education has long been at the forefront of our University's efforts to widen access to higher education. Tomorrow the Institute will be launching a new bursary programme that aims to support some of the adults most affected by the pandemic. Key workers, adults who have been furloughed or made redundant, adults who have been "shielding" due to pre-existing health conditions and adults aged over 70 will be able to apply for one of the 1,000 bursaries, each with the value of £1,000. The bursaries will enable them to offset the costs of studying for fully-online undergraduate certificates or diplomas in the next academic year. I am hugely proud of the Institute of Continuing Education’s determination to make sure that the current crisis does not hamper those adult learners’ educational opportunities.
Registration is now open for the University’s annual Festival of Wellbeing, which this year will take place between 22 and 26 June. This yearly programme of talks and activities aims to promote good mental and physical health for all. Despite having to move online, like almost everything else, it could not come at a better moment. I encourage you to look at the programme and join in some of the activities.
Re-opening of the Botanic Garden
I am delighted to note that the Cambridge Botanic Garden, which has offered some solace throughout the lockdown with its weekly virtual walks, is once again opening its gates. It reopened to Friends of the Botanic Garden this Tuesday, and from Tuesday 16 June will be open to the general public. To control visitor numbers, in keeping with public health guidelines, entry to the garden will be by pre-booked tickets only. The Botanic Garden’s team has been working very hard during lockdown to make sure that the Garden is at its best for visitors upon reopening, and I cannot thank them enough.
Art in times of COVID-19
Some of you may already be aware of the Fitzwilliam Museum Masterpieces 2020 greeting cards, featuring a selection of the Museum’s paintings elegantly "updated" to reflect these unusual times. Some of the images were on the front page of national newspapers, and I was very pleased to see our collections so creatively promoted.
While the Fitzwilliam itself remains closed, the museum is asking for the support of the University community in co-designing a new website that it has been developing since lockdown. The Museum is actively inviting feedback, comments and interactions through their beta website. It is also hoping to harness the power of "citizen science" by encouraging volunteers to engage with its MicroPasts project.
Tackling COVID-19 – Testing
I mentioned last week that, in partnership with Addenbrooke's Hospital, the University is now offering a swab test to all University of Cambridge and College staff with symptoms of possible COVID-19 infection. To increase its ability to detect mild cases, the team behind the testing has broadened the symptoms for which the test can be offered. It would now like to test anyone experiencing fever, cough, a change in their sense of smell or taste, or any other 'flu-like symptoms such as sore throat or muscle aches. Any University or College member of staff experiencing any of these symptoms is asked to get in touch with the Addenbrooke’s Occupational Health team, stating that they are University or College staff members. Further information and contact details are available here.
Tackling COVID-19 – Further University resources
I am both fascinated by, and proud to learn about, the many Cambridge contributions to tackling the Coronavirus crisis. Colleagues in the Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute have been producing a series of short films that focus on their COVID-19 related research. And I was interested to read this profile of Professor Jorge Goncalves, who has been using his knowledge of mathematical modelling of complex systems to help predict disease severity and identify high-risk patients.
Elsewhere, a team of researchers that normally models the spread of crop diseases has published evidence that emphasises the importance of wearing facemasks as one of the most effective ways of lowering the virus’ transmission rates. "By wearing a mask," the authors of the study say, "you are primarily protecting others from yourself." So, they add, the message needs to be clear: "my mask protects you, your mask protects me."
This consideration of, and thoughtfulness towards, others is what we will need to get through the days ahead.
With best wishes,
Prof Stephen J Toope